It’s a near scientific certainty that you’ve heard the term “March Madness” at least 12 times already today.

And now the time has come to fill out a bracket and pretend you’ve watched every single game this season.

But whether you’ve paid attention all season or just realized it was championship weekend, we’ve got the tips you need to fill out your bracket right the first time.

1.  Don‘t go upset crazy

This is a common mistake people make.  Most upsets in the NCAA happen in the first two rounds.  Picking a 12 seed to go to the Elite 8 or a putting a 7 seed in the Final 4 is usually a losing proposition.

Target your upsets carefully.

Pick upsets against teams that you think will lose in the next round anyway, even if they don‘t get upset in the first weekend.

A simple rule is this:  add up the seeding numbers of your Final 4 teams.  If you get a number higher than 10, you probably should go back and change it.

2. Nothing teaches like experience

Even in an age where the best players in college ball are the “one and done” wonders like John Wall who are just filling their requirement in college, teams that are loaded with returning veteran starters can be tough outs in the tournament.

These teams tend to keep their composure and play balanced ball.  Look for teams with a lot of junior and senior starters to fare well in the NCAA.

3. Defense and rebounding wins in the postseason

Teams with good size that play tough defense and rebound the ball well always seem to knock off flashier higher scoring teams in the tournament.

If you see a team whose games always end 58-53, they’re getting ready for a nice run in the tournament.

4.  3 point shooting = upset

Teams that take and make a lot of 3s can beat anyone if they get hot.

Most coaches want their defenders to take away driving lanes and contest the entry pass.

By definition, this leaves the three point shot open for the ball handler to take, if he’s willing to settle for it.  It all works great in theory, until they start going in.

Now every scoring possession is worth 1½ times as much as the other team’s baskets and you’re on your way to an upset.  It all works great in theory, until they stop going in.

Ever see a team, even a highly ranked team, who rely heavily on outside shooting when their 3 pointers start missing?

It’s pathetic.  It’s also contagious.  One guy goes cold, pretty soon another guy goes cold, the next you think you know, Duke loses again (ahem, sorry Duke).

Look for teams that love the 3 point shot when picking your upset games, in both directions.

5.  How to gauge conference tournament results

If you’re looking at a team that has been at or near #1 all year, don’t be scared off by an early exit in their conference tournament.

Chances are, they know they are guaranteed a good seed and aren’t playing with the same sense of urgency as they will in the NCAA.

Or a team from one of the major conferences like the SEC or the ACC who’s had a bit of a disappointing season but then storms through the conference tournament is a hot team that bears watching.

Teams like this usually get a 5 or 6 seed and can be good picks for a second round upset.

6.  Understand trends

I’m sure you’ve heard that every year, an 12 seed wins a first round game against a 5 seed.

The reason for this is simple.  The 12 seeds are basically the last spot where teams from major conferences get slotted.

These are the four spots where major conference “bubble” teams will go in.

The 5 seed teams are usually conference winners from mid-major or smaller conferences.  Consequently, 5 vs. 12 is not the mismatch it may appear to be.

Understand how certain conferences or certain coaches perform in the tournament can help you spot winners in the later rounds.

7. Don’t be afraid to listen to the experts

Sometimes people don’t want to pick a certain upset because all the guys on CBS and ESPN are predicting it.  If they are, it’s probably because it’s a good bet.

Face it, if you have a winning bracket in an office pool, no one is going to question your acumen at picking the games.

If you hear someone predicting an upset or a matchup that sounds good to you, go ahead and use it.

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