Going into your first NCAA bracket contest can be fairly intimidating. While your friends that have done this before can always refer to (or lie about) a past victory or series of genius predictions, the "new guy" is an easy target for head shaking and constant second guessing.
One easy way to get around this is to go with an expert's picks. Sure it may be boring, but it's hard to fault someone that goes right along with a person who probably has more basketball knowledge than your entire office pool combined.
Unfortunately, the term "expert" for any sport can be attached to many writers and analysts that are anything but; keep in mind that in college football, Craig James was actually allowed to vote on the top 25.
However, if there is one guy that almost everyone can agree has a lot of smarts when it comes to college basketball, it's Jay Bilas. Here are a few reasons why it's a safe bet to go along with him and his NCAA tournament predictions...even if it is not to win, but simply to retain your dignity.
Bring up names like Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, Dick Vitale or Andy Katz, and you will often times be on the receiving end of a fiery, hateful rant from whomever you just mentioned the name to.
Bring up Jay Bilas, however, and you generally get a positive reaction or, at worst, mild annoyance (he is a Duke grad, after all).
Bilas is one of the few ESPN personalities with the guts to call out the NCAA for its shortcomings, and consistently gives (in my opinion, at least) excellent analysis on a daily basis.
He is also very active on Twitter, consistently engaging his audience and justifying/explaining many of his predictions. Bilas is also often willing to tweet out quality non-ESPN links (something you rarely see from other employees of the Worldwide Leader).
No one ever picks a perfect bracket. Anyone who says that they have is a liar and is also probably the type of person who jams the copy machine at your office and leaves without fixing it.
Jay Bilas understands this. In an interview with Time, Bilas said that anyone who thinks they can actually predict the outcome of the tournament is "stupid." He also added that he wouldn't even fill out a bracket if it wasn't part of his job.
Unlike a lot of blowhards who huff and puff about how "rock solid" many of their predictions are, Bilas actually gets the completely chaotic and unpredictable nature of March Madness.
Last year, Bilas went with the seemingly safe pick of Kansas to win it all. While many of us who were seasoned "bracketologists" scoffed (because we all know what always happens to Kansas in the Big Dance), it dwarfs the beating he is getting this year on Twitter for his current picks.
Bilas is "chalking" (all upper seeds advacing) to reach the Final Four in this year's tournament. This gives his Final Four the distinction of having what looks like a "rookie" mistake: All No. 1 seeds (and even his Elite Eight consists entirely of No. 1 and No. 2 seeds).
While Michigan State, Syracuse, Kentucky and UNC are all more than capable of doing so, you very rarely see all the No. 1 seeds advance to the Final Four...except that it did happen in 2008.
Guess who predicted it correctly then: Jay Bilas.
Find a friend of yours that had Butler going to the Final Four last year. After you have confirmed with them that they did in fact make that pick, you should then come to the sad realization that your friends just lied to you.
No matter how long a person has been picking teams for the NCAA tournament, no one ever gets it right. There are 9.2 quintillion possible outcomes for March Madness every year. Half the fun of the tournament is the completely unexpected results, even if it's at the expense of your own picks.
At least when (not if) you are wrong, you can just pass on the blame to Mr. Bilas.
For your printable bracket for the 2012 NCAA tournament, click here.
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