It's finally arrived! The NCAA Tournament is finally here, and it's exciting. You've only got a few days left to fill out your March Madness bracket -- if you haven't already, you might want to get on that before Thursday, because if you're anything like me, you'll second-guess yourself on some of your selections, and you may even go back and change some of them. It might take a while -- been there, done that.
With that said, I think it's important that you fill out your bracket with some sort of game plan in mind. Of course you need a little bit of luck in picking the perfect March Madness bracket, but you might be surprised to see how much statistics actually play into making your selections. Here are 10 tips sure to help you fill out your March Madness bracket this year (and finally beat all your friends.)
1. Air on the side of caution with no. 1 seeds
I know you want to send all four no. 1 seeds to the Final Four, but I strongly advise you to rethink your logic. Since seeding began back in 1979, there's only been one year (2008) in which all four no. 1 seeds reached the Final Four. So don't be the hero this year in an attempt to prove everyone wrong--it will come back to haunt you. This isn't the Hunger Games. If you pick every no. 1 seed to go to the Final Four, the odds are sure to not be in your favor.
2. Watch out for an early exit
Since the 2005 tournament, a no. 2 or 3 seed has lost in the first or second round every year except in 2009. So I think it would be in your best interest, given the statistics, to pick at least one of these seeds to go in the first two rounds and keep the trend alive. Personally, I would keep an eye on either no. 2 seed Wisconsin or even no. 3 seed Creighton in the second round.
3. Don't shy away from the upsets
The best part of March Madness is definitely the upsets. So when filling out your bracket, make sure you mix it up a little bit with some upset selections -- just be strategic. You don't want to go crazy picking upsets left and right that will leave your bracket limping into the second weekend of the tournament. Make sure you really give your upset picks some thought before making them final. If you really are feeling the urge to pick a huge upset, you might want to look at any of the 5-12 games. In fact, the no. 12 seeds have beaten the no. 5 seeds 35 percent of the time, the most of any first round matchup. So if you're set on picking a major upset this year, I would give a little more attention to the North Dakota State -- Oklahoma game.
4. But don't go too crazy, either
One of the unwritten rules in filling out a March Madness bracket is that you never pick a no. 16 seed to upset a no. 1 seed in the first round. Now, you're more than welcome to, but as I'm sure you probably already know, a no. 16 seed has never knocked off a no. 1 seed and I most certainly don't see it happening this year, if ever. As for the no. 15 seeds, they've only gotten out of the first round a total of seven times. If you go with either of these two upsets, you're only asking for trouble and your bracket will be shot.
5. Be realistic with your Final Four picks
While it's not smart to send every no. 1 seed to the Final Four, you should at least send one to the national semifinals. Ever since seeding began 35 years ago, there's only been three years in which a no. 1 seed failed to reach the Final Four (the most recent being in 2011). So while you don't want to play the favorites too much, you still have to be realistic.
6. Send Michigan State to the Sweet Sixteen
When it comes to March Madness there are no guarantees, but if I had to choose one thing that seems to happen every year it would have to be Michigan State reaching the Sweet Sixteen. Since arriving in East Lansing in 1995, Tom Izzo has led the Spartans to the Sweet Sixteen 11 times over the last 16 seasons, reaching the Final Four six of those years. I know I said don't be afraid to pick upsets, but this is no place to fool around, so you might as well just send the Spartans through the first two rounds.
7. Your winner shouldn't be less than a no. 4 seed
As far as picking your national champion this year, might I suggest you look at limiting your options. My tip for you is to only pick a no. 4 seed or higher to win the whole thing. For the last 25 years, the national champion has been a no. 4 seed or better. You're more than welcome to pick a team lower than a 4-seed, but you should probably just kiss your bracket goodbye at that point. You can either go with your heart, or with science.
8. Do your homework
Before filling out your bracket this year, make sure you do some research. Whether it's reading some blogs or watching some of the college hoops experts on ESPN, it can't hurt! Research is important, because you need to know how the teams performed leading up to the Big Dance. 7 of the last 8 national champions also won their conference tournaments. When choosing your Final Four teams, take a quick look at how they finished out the regular season and conference tournament.
With more than nine quintillion possible combinations, the odds of you picking a perfect bracket are pretty slim, but don't let that stop you. Check out this site to submit your own bracket, and good luck! (And if any of these tips help you win a big tournament giveaway, don't be afraid to share some of your winnings with me...)