Sports 101: How to Win Your March Madness Pool (Without Knowing Anything About Basketball)

The NCAA tournament isn't nicknamed March "Sensible and Rational Outcomes Based on Statistical Analysis Gathered During the Regular Season and Conference Tournament" for a reason.
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So you've just received an email inviting you to participate in your office/school/local armory March Madness pool and you're reluctant to participate in it because you don't know anything about sports? Fear not, friend. I've been keeping close track of college basketball since I was barely able to walk, and through my years of futilely participating in bracket competitions I've discovered that those uninitiated in the sport not only qualify to participate in a March Madness pool, they're probably the favorites to win.

Below are some tips I've compiled to help lead you along to your path of glory as someone who has decided to participate in a March Madness pool but doesn't like/know the slightest thing basketball.

Tip #1: Do not, under any circumstances, watch a college basketball game before the start of the tournament.

I can't stress this enough -- do not try to make sensible selections based on past performances during the season. A broad and dense knowledge of college basketball can often spell doom for a bracket as for the most part there is no rhyme or reason to March Madness. Only someone who had no idea what they were doing would have been able to predict last year's Final Four, which included two low-seeded mid-major programs in Butler and Virginia Commonwealth.

If you're going into this thing with no idea how the tournament works or even how many points a three-point basket is worth (three points), then congratulations, you're ahead of the game. The tournament isn't nicknamed March "Sensible and Rational Outcomes Based on Statistical Analysis Gathered During the Regular Season and Conference Tournament" for a reason.

Tip #2: Pick a team with blue as one of their colors to win the tournament.

This is a no-brainer for my Eiffel 65 fans, but picking a team that uses blue as one of their colors is almost a necessity if you hope to win your bracket. There is just something about blue and college basketball that works for some reason -- the top four winningest college basketball programs in Division I history (Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and Kansas) wear blue uniforms. In addition, six of the past ten teams to win the tournament have used blue as their primary color, and three of the teams that didn't have blue as their primary color had it as their secondary color. On top of that, the championship game the past two seasons has been an all-blue affair (UConn vs. Butler in 2011, and Duke vs. Butler in 2010).

Does this mean anything? Absolutely not. But once again, success in this pool has nothing at all to do with making rational choices.

Tip #3: Pick one of the teams with a No. 12 beside their name to win two games.

There are only three guarantees in this life: death, taxes and a 12th seeded team surprising the field in the NCAA tournament. There's no reasoning for this precisely, although Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated has suggested that it has to do with No. 12 seeds feeling slighted and No. 5 seeds being deeply flawed. But you aren't reading this for basketball analysis -- you just want to win your bracket.

So, long story short, there are four match-ups between teams with a '12' by their name against teams with a '5' by their name. Pick a No. 12 seeded team to win at least one of those match ups... and then have that team win another game because, hey, why not?

Tip #4: Defend any pick you make to your basketball-savvy friends by saying "They're a second-half team with strong guard play."

This means literally nothing and can be applied to any team.

Tip #5: Grasp on to any inane reason or urge you have to pick one team over another (as long as it isn't basketball-related)

Some people like to pick teams based on which mascot they think is tougher or which uniforms they think are cuter, but I recommend an approach where you mix up your non-reasons for picking certain schools to defeat others.

For example, Notre Dame is playing Xavier -- What's that? You used to have an optometrist whose first name is Xavier? Well, you'd be doing yourself an injustice not to pick them to win that game.

No. 3 seed Georgetown is playing No. 14 Belmont -- Oh, "Run Around Sue" by Dion and the Belmonts is your mom's favorite song? That's kind of weird, but that's more than enough reason to predict a big upset.

So Indiana is matched up against New Mexico State? The Hoosiers have a higher seed, but New Mexico State has one more syllable in their name. Gotta go with the Aggies here.

Tip #6: Pick Michigan State to win two more games than you think they will.

This is just something that always happens. Don't ask -- just whenever you feel like Michigan State will lose, pick them to win two more games.

Tip #7: Duke sucks

This has nothing to do with picking a successful tournament bracket... but it's still good to know.

Tip #8: You should probably cheat off the president a little bit.

Last year, President Obama's bracket ranked in the 99th percentile after the first weekend of tournament play concluded. I realize this may contradict some other tips I've provided, but if you're in a bind, it might not be a bad idea to steal a couple of picks from the president just to cover all your bases in the likely scenario that he in fact rigs the entire tournament to save face in front of lower staffers in the White House pool.

Tip #9: Don't spend more than, like, five minutes filling out your bracket.

Regardless of what others might suggest, you can't Moneyball your bracket by utilizing deep statistical analysis to pick winners in the tournament. In fact, in my personal experience, the amount of time I've spent analyzing a bracket has been inversely proportional to how well I've done in my March Madness pool that year.

You put a lot of hard work and dedication into avoiding college basketball the past few months -- why would you betray that by attempting to research it now? Just read both team names and pick whichever one compels you first. Treat your bracket more like a Ouija board than a science experiment.

Oh, and this brings me to an important sub-point, which is to fill out the entire bracket. This isn't like Jeopardy where wrong answers count against you.

Actually, this isn't like Jeopardy in so many ways.

Tip #10: Do not seek any advice in picking your bracket (except from the president... and this blog post... and even that's pushing it).

I can't stress this enough: When it comes to picking a March Madness bracket, your ignorance of college basketball and lack of knowledge in regards to what is a practical college basketball outcome is your greatest asset.

With these tips in mind, you should be well on your way to making this month miserable for your sports-obsessed friends and co-workers. Good luck, and one last time: no research allowed.

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