Becky Flaum
March 20, 2014 8:00 am

Without a doubt, the NCAA Basketball Tournament is one of my favorite things about being an American. It is three weeks in March (early April) where high stakes, fast-paced college basketball is played. Sixty-eight teams enter and only one can emerge the champion in this single elimination tournament. And it’s going on now.

If you didn’t/don’t go to a college with a Division I basketball team, have no interest in your team or no interest in basketball at all, you may feel a little left out of the March fever that sweeps the nation. I’m from a town (Memphis) dubbed “Hoop City” and both my parents went to powerhouse basketball schools (University of Kentucky and Syracuse), so college basketball season in my house was and still is intense.

Most offices in America have a bracket pool going because gambling makes every sporting event more exciting, so that will be the talk of the water cooler for the next few weeks. Plus, any bar you go to until April 7th will be playing a tournament game. Especially this weekend with 32 games being played. So conversations all around you are going to be buzzing with terms like “bracket breaker”, “the dance” and “deep run”.

Here are eight ways to survive March Madness with grace and even impress your boss who went to Villanova.

The NCAA tournament, like a spring garden, is nothing without its seeds.

If you aren’t familiar with the structure of this tournament, it’s all about seeding. On Selection Sunday (last Sunday), the Selection Committee looks at all the teams and ranks them, taking into account not only how they performed in the regular season, but also how they performed in their divisional tournaments. Then they “seed” them from 1 to 16, 1 being the highest, 16 being the lowest. The higher you are seeded, the easier your first round game will be. So the Number 1 seed with play the Number 16, 2 will play 15, 3 will play 14 and so on. Your Number 1 seeded teams are considered the best in the nation (at least by the board that selects these things). These are the teams, statistically speaking, most likely to win the whole thing. But there are upsets – oh Lord, are there upsets – which is what makes the tournament so amazing! Speaking of upsets….

Believe in fairytales.

Every year, a team is dubbed the “Cinderella story” of the tournament. This means they are a higher seeded team that is beating teams that are statistically better than them. In 2006, it was George Mason, a No. 11 seed team that went all the way to the Final Four. The thing about the Cinderella team is that it is hard to predict before you are in the thick of the tourney, but you have to consider some teams to upset higher ranked teams if you want to win your bracket. Amongst some of the teams that might have a fairy tale tournament are the North Dakota State Bisons and St. Joseph’s Hawks. On the flip side, bear in mind that a No. 16 has never beaten a No. 1 seed. But that almost every year, a No. 12 beats a No. 5.

8 and 9 are not lucky numbers.

In the first round, the 8th seeded team plays the 9th seeded team and it’s anyone’s guess who will win. Statistically, the 9th seeded team wins. When in doubt, I pick the 9th seed (unless its this year’s No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 George Washington match-up, of course). Which brings me to the next thing to remember about the NCAA Tournament: when it comes to picking winners….

Don’t get so emotional.

When cheering on your alma mater, by all means paint your face and sing your fight song at the top of your lungs, but leave that mess out of your bracket. But if you want to bet on an NCAA tournament game, you make cold, calculating moves and keep a clear head. Does it hurt my soul to have Duke advance to the next round of play? Of course it does, but do I think Mercer can beat them as a No. 13? Eh… actually, they may have a shot.

It’s not about predicting who will win, its about predicting who will lose.

That’s how upsets are born. You have to ask yourself, “What big teams, like Duke, are on a downswing? And what little teams have the fire, the talent and the timing to topple a giant?” Now, don’t mix your fairytales – just because a little team slays a giant, it doesn’t mean they are a Cinderella. They have to continue to fight their way through the tournament to earn that title.

Teams are ranked No. 1 for a reason.

It’s no fun to think about a tournament where all four of the No. 1 seeded teams end up in the finals, but statistically, at least two of them will do it. The Final Four is then usually rounded out by a No. 2 and a No. 3 or lower. So look for Florida, Arizona, Virginia and Wichita to last a while… especially Florida.

Beware the “experts”.

Obviously not me, though. Seriously, look out for commentators and columnists labeled pros. They are all coming in with bias and teams they love (Duke, Iowa State, Kansas, North Carolina and Michigan State are hot amongst these guys these year). That’s not to say that these aren’t excellent teams with great chances, but a lot of time they pick these mid to high seeded teams and rarely take risks to look at the less popular teams. A lot of times their favorite picks barely make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Pay attention to traveling.

And I’m not referring to the basketball rule of not taking more than 3 steps without dribbling the ball… I’m talking about paying attention to where the teams are playing. While teams are forbidden from playing in their home arenas, some will be playing in a nearby town, making for a friendlier environment.  Duke (of course),  Florida, Wichita State, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Baylor and UCLA all play second and (if they win), third round games within an easy drive of their schools. And Kentucky and Kansas fans are notorious for caravanning anywhere their teams play.

P.S. Duke’s head coach is Mike Krzyzewski and it’s pronounced Sha-SHEV-ski not KER-zew-ski.

That will be the deadliest giveaway that you’ve never watched a college basketball game ever.

FOR MORE INFO

To really make your bracket a winner, check out some of these sites that look at stats, players, coaches and historical trends of the Big Dance.

Five Thirty Eight – Genius Nate Silver takes his legendary predictions to March Madness

Grantland Glossary – Terms for the 2014 NCAA tournament

The Bleacher Report – Picks for every match-up

Featured image via Shutterstock

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