Picking a bracket can be an exact science or pure and random luck. Take for example my friend Zack who won my pool last year. Zack has an incredible football mind and was an all-state offensive lineman now playing college ball.
Last season, he took about 10 minutes to fill out his bracket with me in the back of math class. In it, he had UConn winning the National Championship game along with so many other upsets, we all guaranteed he would finish last in our bracket.
Moral of the story: Nothing is guaranteed in March and things are going to continue to get crazy. With the action about ready to start, you all should be peering over your brackets one more time.
Here are five easy rules that can separate your bracket from the rest that seem to add order to the chaos of March Madness.
Only once in the last decade have all No. 1 seeds made the final, and in a year marked by inconsistency, do not expect this to change as of now.
With recent news from Syracuse saying that center Fab Melo is ineligible for the tournament, the Orange become the No. 1 seed to drop from the Final Four.
However, don't think that they are the only ones safe. While Kentucky may be the favorites, Duke lurks below them as a No. 2 seed that could very well be a No. 1. Also, Coach K knows how to coach in March, while Coach Cal seems to find new ways to choke.
Michigan State and North Carolina seem to have the safest paths to the Final Four with their biggest challenges being Missouri and Kansas respectively. However, not much separates these great teams, and a bounce the wrong way could change the tide of them all.
It is almost a guarantee that there will be some first-round shockers that will ruin some of your unsuspecting friends' brackets. I will almost guarantee that these will all come from the 4-13 matchup.
This year especially, two lower seeds face off against weak high seeds, setting the stage for a Cinderella run.
The first is the 4-13 matchup in the East, pitting Michigan against Ohio. I like this as his upset pick because of the great defense Ohio plays. D.J. Cooper and Nick Kellog are both going to need huge games, but Michigan is not going blow out anyone. If these two players get hot, then Michigan will be set on upset alert.
Another upset pick to watch is 14th-seeded Belmont over third-seeded Georgetown. Belmont runs a fast offense predicated on three-point shooting. This is the classic upset matchup as a slow half-court classic power goes up against a fast-paced mid-major. This one is more risky than Ohio, but it happening will not shock you, the savvy bracketologist.
When it gets down to it, what separates a winning bracket from the rest is your ability to see the potential matchup issues that teams from different conferences present to each other.
A perfect example of this can be seen in the 8-9 matchup between Iowa State and UConn. Iowa State runs an atypical offense through forward Royce White. The big man actually plays as a point guard and is an excellent distributor as well as scorer.
He leads the the Cyclones in assists, points and rebounds this season. UConn never played against a team like this in the Big East, and unless they can come up with a different kind of strategy, look for the Huskies to make an early exit.
Another matchup to watch in general are three-point shooting teams. Hot teams such as Florida State will either continue their run and go far, or flame out in the early rounds against teams that can slow them down.
The most dangerous team is a versatile one that can adapt much like VCU did last season to their opponent. Some teams like that this year are Vanderbilt and the team they knocked off last in Kentucky.
For all the talk about Cinderella teams, more often than not, teams with experienced coaches tend to fend better in March than those with little experience. Coaches like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens have bucked this trend, but Coach K and Roy Williams were once green as well.
Tournament experience does not always mean winning it all either. A coach like Coach Calipari will have an obvious advantage over most, even without a title, because he has taken his teams through the madness of the opening round.
Teams like Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, UConn, Syracuse, North Carolina and Louisville all have very experienced coaches that will become an advantage on the second-day site matchups, where teams have only one day to prepare for their next game.
Watch for Duke or Kansas to make runs as No. 2 seeds if their great coaches go up against very inexperienced coaches throughout the tournament.
If the anecdote at the beginning of the story screamed anything, it is that the tournament is just as much luck as it is logic. Sometimes, teams like UConn go on a run and fans who watch enough basketball see it coming or see something special.
The final piece of advice then is to not overthink your bracket if you are a die-hard college basketball fan. You have probably watched enough games to get a feel for a team's style and strengths, and if they do not pass the eye test for you, do not try to force it.
In a matchup that you are truly agonizing over, go with your gut if you have seen both teams play enough. If not, flip a coin and see if you instantly agree with it or not. If you're still debating it, you're overthinking it. There is a reason "madness" and March go hand in hand.
For your printable bracket for the 2012 NCAA tournament, click here.