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The Dummy’s Guide to filling out an NCAA Tournament Bracket

Well, hello again, March Madness.

The time of year where every single eyeball of every single sports fan across the country falls upon our underappreciated sport for three glorious weeks.

The people that read this site religiously (Hi, Grandma!) will already know a thing or two about college basketball. If you don’t, we got you covered. Click here. Read every word. You’ll be good to go.

But knowing teams and names and stats isn’t what’s going to win you your Bracket Pool. We’ve all been in a pool where the girlfriend of the dude that hates sports and was only involved in the first place because he got a pity invite ends up taking home the jackpot. You know that pain. I certainly do.

That’s why we’re here, to give you all the tidbits and insider knowledge you can handle while trying to pick 67 winners. Here are 15 things you need to know while filling out your bracket, and when you win, my cut is 3%.
[ BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West ]

1. Always stick to a single bracket even if you’re in more than one pool. If you feel the need to fill out multiple brackets, just walk away from the computer for five minutes. Everyone knows that Sports Karma is at its strongest when you’re all-in pulling for one team. We don’t hedge our bets around here.

2. Never fill out your bracket with permanent ink on the first go-round. You will change your mind. And then change it back. And then change it back again.

3. A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed. As in never, ever. And it’s never, ever going to happen. So just don’t.

4. That said, it’s OK to be reckless. No one likes the guy that has all chalk in the Sweet 16. Can’t stand the thought of No. 4 Duke winning a game? Pick No. 13 UNC Wilmington! Does your Pittsburgh fandom preclude you from ever rooting for No. 3 West Virginia? Well, two No. 14 seeds won a game last season. Hello, Stephen F. Austin! Gamble away …

5. … but be smart the further you get. Only five times since 1979, when the tournament was first seeded, has someone lower than a No. 3 seed won the National Title: No. 4 Arizona (1997), No. 6 Kansas (1988), No. 6 N.C. State (1983), No. 7 UConn (2014), No. 8 Villanova (1985). …

6. … and only 10 times in those 37 years has someone lower than a No. 8 seed made the Final Four ...

7. … but it has happened three times in the last five seasons, and that doesn’t include No. 5 Butler or No. 5 Michigan State making the Final Four in 2010. Or No. 7 UConn squaring off with No. 8 Kentucky in the 2014 national title game. Or No. 7 Michigan State playing in last year’s Final Four. So if you fall in love with a sleeper, go ahead and roll the dice. You’ll have endless bragging rights if you’re right.
[ CBT Podcast | Expert Brackets | Guide a bracket pool ]

8. There are no locks for a Round of 64 upset … this year. Georgetown missed the tournament.

9. Kansas will do one of two things: They’ll make a run to the Final Four, or they’ll get dropped at some point in the first weekend of the tournament. Guess right and your bracket will be thankful.

10. Reggie Jackson is Mr. October. Derek Jeter is Mr. November. Tom Izzo is Mr. March. Always trust in Tom Izzo and Michigan State.

11. Take one of those No. 11 seeds playing the First Four and put them in the Sweet 16. Trust us on this. La Salle and Tennessee both played in the First Four and ended up reaching the Sweet 16 in 2014. And we cannot forget about VCU in 2011, too.

12. Everyone loves the 12-5 upset picks, but feel free to swing away at those 11 (Wichita State? Vandy? Northern Iowa?) and 13 seeds (UNC Wilmington? Iona?) as well because ...

13. ... you’ll have no soul if you don’t do the right thing and make sure to have at least one double-digit seed in the Sweet Sixteen.

14. If you’re stuck, never, EVER flip a coin. There has to be logic. Any kind of logic. Which mascot would win in a fight. Which school’s colors would better match the shirt you’re wearing. Which coach’s wife is the hottest. It doesn’t matter. Just find your system, and always trust your system.

15. If you’ve reached your limit and you can’t make a decision, put the bracket down for a few hours. Leave your office (like you’re actually going to be working this week) and go hit Happy Hour. Three ice cold brewskis and a dozen wings later, your decision won’t be any easier, but you might have realized it’s stupid to work yourself into a tizzy worrying about who would win an 8-9 game when you have the No. 1 seed in that region winning the National Title.

Point being, have fun with it. And what’s more fun than filling in brackets with a solid buzz and a belly full of chicken wings?