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How to Fill Out Your NCAA March Madness Bracket

An unscientific guide to winning your pool. By Ben Teitelbaum.

March Madness, that scourge of workplace productivity, has set upon America, and your hoops-crazed colleagues are beginning to act a little funny. That one guy is suddenly couch-ridden with his crippling annual case of “spring fever.” Protected by the ingenious “Boss Button,” the tech wizard livestreams the games on all three of the monitors he “needs for that special project.” And even on your boss’s comprehensive daily planner, business meetings and deadlines have been replaced by matchups and point spreads.

But don’t worry about those die-hard fans. More than ever before, the NCAA tournament, and therefore your office pool, is wide open and up for grabs.

The season started quite strangely, when opening-night games set to be played aboard aircraft carriers—just try to think of something more American than college sports on naval warships—were cancelled because the makeshift outdoor courts got too wet. It was an omen, and 2012-13 became the most unpredictable (and exciting) year in recent memory, full of furious finishes, astonishing upsets, maddening inconsistency, and truly incredible drama.

Now, expect an unprecedented amount of buzzer beating and bracket busting in the capricious steeplechase toward a college basketball championship. So make some picks—any picks, really—and maybe, come April 9, it’ll be your incredulous, smiling face covered in a basketball-shaped cake, courtesy of that co-worker who celebrates everything like it’s a 5-year-old’s birthday party.

Oh—you know nothing about college basketball? Well, you could simply choose random schools for even randomer reasons. (You’re a huge Steve Urkel fan and know that actor Jaleel White went to UCLA? Go Bruins!)

Or you could introduce a little method to the madness, as there are many ways for college hoops neophytes to fill out their brackets:

1. If you’re boring and/or lazy, you could just pick the higher seeds to advance, hoping that rankings hold up. But that’s risky, since this season has been wackier than Dennis Rodman’s diplomatic mission to North Korea. For example, No. 1 seed Kansas lost only five games all year, but one was to an incompetent TCU squad ranked as the second-worst team in all major conferences, by measure of RPI (that’s a fancy mathematical computation of a team’s strength).

2. For you Jeopardy! watchers out there, you could base your selections on academic rankings. While this strategy is perennially dumb, this year it might be worse than ever. Duke is always a “contender,” but these Blue Devils are almost universally deemed to be especially vulnerable. The Ivy League champ, Harvard, is weaker than in recent years, ironically hampered by an academic scandal that caused the Crimson’s senior co-captains to leave school last summer. For most of the 1990s and 2000s, Stanford was a powerhouse both on the court and in the classroom, but the Cardinal haven’t made the tourney since 2008. And while Caltech did manage to win one game this year (a 60-59 nailbiter against Bard) suffice it to say that you don’t need any advanced metrics to realize that this isn’t the year of the brainiac ballers.

3. Conventional wisdom praises the value of experience, so you might be inclined to go with older squads. Then how about ACC champion Miami, a No. 2 seed? Coach Jim Larranaga (no spring chicken at 63) plays a sixth-year senior, two fifth-year seniors, and six others who can legally celebrate wins with a beer, and power forward Kenny Kadji is older than three starters on the Oklahoma City Thunder. But age can be misleading, considering not one Hurricane has played in an NCAA tournament game. This is Miami’s first tournament appearance in five years.

4. Was the papal election your Super Bowl? Because now could be the time to bet on faith. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Jesuit schools Gonzaga, Marquette, Georgetown, and Saint Louis, who are all seeded fourth or better, met in the Final Four, while Creighton, Villanova, and Notre Dame are dangerous too. An NCAA title plus eternal salvation—what could be better than that?

5. Then there’s everyone’s favorite fuzzy friends, the mascots, always a fun way to make predictions. This 68-team field features eight species of birds (Cardinals, Bluejays, Ducks, Jayhawks, Eagles, Golden Eagles, Blackbirds, Owls), four Wildcats (Arizona, Davidson, Kansas St., Villanova), three Tigers (Memphis, Missouri, Pacific), three types of bears (Bruins, Grizzlies, Golden Bears), two natural disasters (Hurricanes, Cyclones), and two colors (Harvard Crimson, Syracuse Orange).

Or you could double down on the sillier mascots. The Wichita State Shocker, named WuShock, resembles a frayed yellow pencil eraser and/or Bart Simpson on meth. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are represented by a gape-mouthed dancing blob named Big Red. The Akron Zips boast an adorable kangaroo. And no one seems to have any clue what a St. Louis Billiken is.

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Random question: Why are some mascots (i.e. the Bulldog) prevalent in college sports but completely absent from the pros? Are they more collegial, scholarly, unprofessional? Just wondering.

So there you have it, folks, several foolhardy techniques to fill out your brackets and make a run at office immortality. Don’t be afraid to mix and match methods, either, to play Mr. Potato Head with these tactics. This might just be the year that the team cutting down the nets in Atlanta will be a 14th-seed Lutheran school whose mascot is the least fearsome knight you’ll ever see. That would be the Valparaiso Crusaders. But I wouldn’t bet on them.