The mascot of the Duke Blue Devils performs during a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 8, 2014 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke defeated North Carolina 93-81. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) | Lance King via Getty Images
Ignorance may not be bracket bliss when it comes to the NCAA Tournament but knowledge isn't necessarily power either. Given the regularly-scheduled madness of March, the way you make your picks is at least as important to the bracket experience as the picks you actually make.
Whether you're more inclined to make data-driven selections or to advance teams based on mascot ferocity, there is a bracket strategy out there suited for everyone from college basketball neophytes to EPSN acolytes. There are also a billion reasons for everyone in both groups -- and those somewhere in between -- to try a bracket in 2014. Warren Buffet and Quicken Loans have teamed up for a $1 Billion Bracket Challenge at Yahoo!. If you correctly pick every single game in the tournament then the big prize could be yours.
Don't worry too much that Jeff Bergen, a mathematician at DePaul University, told USA Today Sports that the odds of actually getting every game correctly in the main draw are one in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. After all, NCAA Tournament history is full of teams that triumphed against the (much less daunting) odds.
Here are 12 bracket strategies that should offer something for everyone who wants to fill out a bracket in hopes of landing the $1 billion prize:
A holdover term from bygone days of gambling on horses, going "chalk" currently refers to picking the team with the better seed to advance in each matchup. In each game, pick the team rated higher by the 10-man selection committee. The No. 1 seed will take out the No. 16, the No. 2 will top the No. 15 and so on and so forth until you end up with all four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. From there, you can either see that No. 1 overall seed Florida takes down Arizona in the national championship game or you can get a bit more creative by using some of the strategies below.
The Mascot Bracket
Don't know much about adjusted defensive efficiency or Dougie McBuckets? Then this bracketeering strategy might be for you. Rather than worrying about the relative talents of the players on the court and the schemes of their coaches, focus on the team mascots when you make your bracket choices. Do you think a Spartan would be able to hunt down a blue hen it encountered in the wild? Then you just picked No. 4 Michigan State to eliminate No. 13 Delaware in the second round. The choices get trickier when mythical creatures and forces of nature must be weighed against living animals or historical humans. What exactly is a Blue Devil and how would it stand up to a bear? It is up to each amateur mascotologist to determine his or her own pecking order of natural and supernatural phenomena. If you'd like some help in parsing the relative merits of a Cavalier and a Chanticleer then go check out SB Nation's 2014 NCAA Mascot DeathBracket.
The Statistical Method
You already know that the odds of winning your office pool are against you but you'd rather try to make educated guesses based off team performance during the season. For you, part of the fun of the bracket is trying to puzzle it out by learning facts about the teams that will make watching the action even more enjoyable. Your first stop should be the HuffPost Predict-o-Tron that allows you to customize your bracket using various statistic variables. Your stats-driven bracket strategy should include a visit to Kenpom.com, the website of Ken Pomeroy. A meteorologist by trade, Pomeroy is the preeminent college basketball statistician. As you'll see, No. 1 Arizona tops his ratings system, followed by No. 4 Louisville and No. 1 Florida. For those who want their data-driven journalism from Nate Silver, rejoice in the reappearance of FiveThirtyEight.com under the umbrella of ESPN. Silver returned just in time for the 2014 NCAA Tournament and has a bracket of his own with all sorts of probabilities and predictions.
The Narcissist's Bracket
Like most things in this wide world of yours, the 2014 NCAA Tournament is all about you. Your bracket should reflect this undeniable fact. Rather than paying attention to the seeds assigned to teams by the selection committee, focus on how the teams in the field of 68 relate to you. Does your alma mater have a hoops team in the Big Dance? If so then it clearly should be advanced to the second weekend, at least. Do you currently live -- or have you ever lived -- near a university with a basketball team? Well, that probably makes them good enough for a Sweet 16 spot. Schools fortunate enough to have associations with people fortunate enough to be associated with you should be picked whenever possible. Unless, of course, it's is a school that makes you think of an ex or someone who wronged you at any point. That would be cause for an early exit. If there is a matchup with no connection whatsoever to your life then simply trust your instincts. Needless to say, you're probably right. Think Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" was underrated during awards season? That's a good enough reason to give the Cornhuskers their first-ever NCAA Tournament win.
The Bracketologist's Bracket
Rather than concerning yourself with the performance of specific teams in 2014, you're bracket will only be determined by historic performances of various seeds. For example, you'll know that No. 16 seeds don't beat No. 1 seeds but that No. 12 seeds have terrific success against No. 5 seeds in recent years. You'll also know that No. 11 seeds fare better in the Elite Eight (3-2) than No. 10 seeds (0-7). Ultimately, this bracket might not look very different from the "chalk" bracket as No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have won 22 of the 29 national championships since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Hot Or Not?
You've thrown away enough busted brackets to realize that it's more important to be the team playing best than to be the best team. It may be hard for a team to be on a better roll than undefeated Wichita State, but the defending national champions are doing the best they can. Louisville won its three games in the American Athletic Conference Tournament by a combined 100 points and looks as Russidiculous as ever entering the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Fourteen of the national champions since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 won their conference tournaments before arriving for the Big Dance. Those teams were hot coming in and didn't cool off until after the nets were cut down. If momentum is going to be the driving force in your bracket picks then No. 1 overall seed Florida will likely face the Shockers in the title game. You'll also advance No. 12 Stephen F. Austin, riding a 28-game winning streak, as your upset darling. In decidedly cooler news, Syracuse and Saint Louis are two squads who lost their way down the stretch.
In the one-and-done era of college basketball, the rarest commodity come tournament time can be experience. You're likely the type of college basketball fan that throws around terms like "loyalty" when talking about seniors. You'll want to remember that No. 1 overall seed Florida brings a senior-laden team to the NCAA Tournament. Likewise, undefeated Wichita State returns most of a team that embarked on a Final Four run last season. Looking elsewhere on the bracket, Creighton senior Doug McDermott lead's the nation in scoring and a veteran No. 3 seed.
Location, Location, Location
Apply the famous real estate adage to your bracket. You believe there is a method to March madness and it is connected to the teams' travel schedules. When in doubt, select the team playing closer to home to advance. With teams needing at least six wins spread over about three weeks and at least three cities, travel becomes a factor. In close games, a partisan crowd can also help. The selection committee often rewards top teams with favorable itineraries but not always. In the West Region, locale hints at an upset pick for those trusting location. No. 3 Creighton could have to face No. 6 Baylor in Texas in the third round if both teams advance.
Uniform Color Bracket
When it comes to your bracket, "style" doesn't just refer to a team's preference for up-tempo offense. Uniform color and attractiveness will be the determining factors as you make your bracket picks. When it comes to college basketball, the so-called Blue Bloods often do wear blue. Before red-adorned Louisville won it all in 2013, blue was worn by the previous nine NCAA Tournament winners: Kentucky, UConn, Duke, UNC, Kansas, Florida, Florida, UNC, UConn. Before that? The winner was the Orange of Syracuse. What would truly be shocking in 2014 is a yellow winner in Wichita State.
With the brightest spotlight in college sports shining on the Final Four, it would only make sense that the teams with the best players in the country would advance. If you believe in star power then your Elite Eight will probably include a handful of the semifinalists for the Naismith Award. Doug McDermott, the nation's leading scorer, will carry Creighton deep into the tournament in this bracket. For those fans who prefer their college stars to be on the one-and-done track for NBA stardom, there is yet another group of standout freshman to keep an eye on, led by Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, Duke's Jabari Parker and Kentucky's Julius Randle.
Trust The Coaches
The players come and go -- some faster than others -- in college basketball but the coaches remain the same. They take home the biggest paychecks and truly determine the year-to-year success of a program. Rather than concern yourself with learning the names and skills of another crop of one-and-down talents, just focus on the men on the sidelines while filling out your bracket.
Even if you haven't watched a college basketball game all season, Coach K, Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim will still be familiar faces.
The Conspiracy Bracket
Do you remain convinced that the NCAA selection committee annually conspires with the television networks to create the most promotable matchups in each round and ensure the advancement of the biggest draws? If you're into conspiracy theories then this maybe the bracket philosophy for you. For example, undefeated Wichita State faces a potentially tough matchup in No. 8 seed Kentucky in the third round. Did the committee pair the No. 1 seed with smallest national following with Coach Cal's preseason No. 1 in hopes of a ratings-generating upset? Would CBS and the NCAA rather see another Bluegrass State clash in the Sweet 16? Is the entire Midwest Region so stacked to keep Wichita State from reaching the Final Four again? Those who choose this bracket strategy will just give the shadowy selection committee want it wanted in the first place. Remember, Just because Larry Brown is paranoid doesn't mean that the selection committee didn't screw SMU.