The Dawg Sports Guide To Bracket-Picking For Fun And Profit.

Ever wish that more things worked like college brackets? That you could seed everything that way? Top 64 pre-game foods. Top 64 college players. Well, now you can do just that with your friends, with the Allstate BFF Brackets, which takes your 64 top Facebook friends (an algorithm seeds them based on interaction) and seeds them in four regions, exactly like the real tourney. Once the tourney starts, your friends advance with the corresponding seeds – till one is left standing. Check it out at http://apps.facebook.com/bffbrackets/

Today is one of the least productive days of the year, as I’m sure all of you (and the rest of America) will be huddled over your NCAA tournament brackets like a pack of hyenas tucking into a young gazelle. You’re doing this for the fun and camaradery of course, with no hope of financial gain because gambling is illegal, except of course when the government tells you that it’s ok. And Dawg Sports readers are nothing if not law-abiding.*

Nevertheless anything worth doing is worth doing right. So, if you're going to try to predict which group of 18-22 year old males (as unpredictable a species as ever you'll find) is going to eventually cut down the nets, we're going to help you make as informed a decision as you can. So without further delay I am pleased to present the Dawg Sports Guide To Bracket-Picking.

Tip #1: This is the most important tip of all. Do some homework, you lazy slob. Look, if you want a slim chance to win money without doing any work your local 7-11 has a bevy of lotto scratchers you might try. But real degenerate gamblers do their background research because they understand that easy money is anything but. All of the tips below presuppose that you’ve taken the time to dig up the little gold nuggets from which you can forge one bracket to rule them all.

Sure, everybody’s heard that story about the 78 year old lady who won the bracket pool in some buddy’s office by picking only teams with feline mascots because (and I’m quoting here) "ooohh look, kitties!" Assuming this type of urban legend is true, it more likely resulted from everybody else in the office sucking like they were working on a Chik-Fil-A banana pudding milkshake than from grandma being some sort of college basketball savant. Do you understand me, Dawg Sports readers? If you want to deprive sweet little old ladies of the fleeting joy of winning your bracket competition (because let’s face it, the win probably means more to you than it does to them anyway) you’re going to have to use a neuron or three. With that out of the way, let’s put together a kickass bracket.

 Tip #2: Pick a team that’s seeded too low because of injuries. The Committee seeds based on performance, and they don’t accept doctors’ notes. As a result teams sometimes slide when they lose an important player at the wrong time. A good example in this year’s bracket may be Georgetown, which went on a late season skid without forward Chris Wright, who was out with a broken arm. Prior to Wright’s injury the Hoyas were holding their own in an absolutely vicious Big East. Now they're a 6 seed in the Southwest opening up against the VCU/Southern Cal winner, and their path to the Elite 8 is blocked by Notre Dame and Purdue, squads they seem more than capable of playing with if all the Hoyas' parts are in order. Which leads to the next tip . . .

Tip #3: Valparaiso doesn’t care what conference you’re in. Every year some 3,4 or 5 seed from a major conference goes down to some team from the Horizon League and everybody talks about what a shocker it is. Newsflash: it’s not that shocking that this happens. The question is whether you can accurately predict which BCS conference squad will be embarrassed by which mid major team.

The reason this happens is a little unique to basketball. As with most of the other utter tragedies of American life it’s all the NBA’s fault. With so many of the nation’s top players being one-and-done or "two-and-through" (TM, MaconDawg Industries, Ltd.) unit cohesion and player development suffer at the big schools. That’s how a team of fifth year seniors from the SoCon can blow up your bracket: they’re more mature, more polished and more practiced than the true freshman aspiring millionaires who make up the squads at Kentucky, Memphis and Texas. So, look for mid major teams with a) veteran rosters, b) under-recruited athletes who’ve developed into bigtime players, and c) experience against the big boys.

My pick for "that mid major team you don’t want to see in round one" are the Belmont Bruins. Last weekend I watched them shred North Florida in the Atlantic Sun tournament finale 87-46. They’ve been to the Big Dance 4 times in 6 years. The Bruins have lost one game since Christmas, and the other three losses were to Tennessee and Vanderbilt early on. Rick Byrd’s team also plays 10-11 guys every game, so that they’re deep and experienced. Their first round matchup against the Wisconsin Badgers has the potential to be a shocker, it's just up to you on whether you want to pull that particular trigger.

Tip #4: Pick a 3-5 seed to go deep. It happens more often than not. It’s a rarity for all 4 #1 seeds to make it to the Elite 8, much less the Final Four. So look for a high seed to go deep into the tournament. Louisville is a 4 seed that seems to be playing good basketball right now. Ditto UConn, which is a 5 seed out in the West and who just beat the Cardinals in a hard-fought game to take home the Big East championship.

Tip #5: Don’t pick a 16 over a 1. Yeah, it’s gonna happen eventually. But under most bracket formats you don’t really reap a huge reward for this unless the 16 continues to advance. And the odds of that happening are slim to none, given the inevitable letdown and the post-win publicity that would certainly be a major distraction. If you want to be able to frame your bracket and tell your grandchildren about the time you called the greatest upset in college basketball history, by all means, be my guest. But if you want to actually win the pool and the cash that goes with it, stick to looking for 12, 13 and 14 seeds who could jump up and bite someone, and perhaps even a couple of someones. Because those are valuable points indeed.

Tip #6: Pick some teams your competition knows nothing about. If you’re like me and live on the east coast, the people in your bracket competition don’t know jack-diddly poo about the San Diego State Aztecs. They won’t know, for example, that San Diego State is 32-2 on the season with both losses coming to BYU before the recent Brandon Davies uproar, or that they just housed the Davies-less Cougars by 18 points to win the MWC tournament. They won’t know that the Aztecs are shooting 47% from the field for the year. They won’t know that 6'7 sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard is averaging 15.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, or that the team from the Tijuana suburbs thumped Cal in Berkeley this year 77-57 and swept tournament team UNLV in 2 meetings.

Teams like San Diego State are hiding in plain sight just because most bracket pickers don’t really watch a lot of college basketball, or their viewing has a regional bias. Owing to my status an SEC Basketball Power Poll voter I’ve been watching every SEC game I could this year, usually 4-6 games a week. But I have to admit that as a result I have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to some of the teams out west, including some Big XII teams I hear are pretty good but whom I haven’t watched a lot of (Texas A&M for example). Know your blindspot, and don't be afraid listen to what the numbers are telling you, especially when your competition refuses to take off the blinders.

So there you have it. The Dawg Sports guide to your bracket. Now go check out the sites listed on theSB Nation printable tournament bracket so you'll have the knowledge to dominate your office pool. Feel free to include your surefire strategies for picking a winning bracket in the comments. Until later . . .

Go ‘Dawgs!!!

* Except so far as scootering, underage drinking and jaywalking. I know some of you people have probably gone out and bought a scooter for the sole purpose of mowing down drunken 19 year old jaywalkers. It’s fine, no judgments here.

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