Aside from the Super Bowl, it can be argued that no sporting spectacular drums up more interest among casual and nonfans than the NCAA tournament.
College basketball fans are understandably ecstatic that March Madness is upon us, but they aren't the only ones. Bracket pools across the country get everyone involved, and every game inevitably matters over the course of the entire tournament.
Whether you're a college basketball expert or novice, there's no harm in filling out a bracket, even if it's just for your own personal enjoyment. Luckily, Bleacher Report has you covered with your own personal, printable NCAA tournament bracket.
If you're unsure of what direction to take and how to get your bracket started, here are a few tips that should lead to some measure of success.
Consider Significant Injuries
While records and play over the course of a season can say a lot about teams, there are other factors that need to be assessed. Among them is the presence of significant injuries. Although most of the top teams in college basketball have enough depth to do some damage even without one of their top players, there is no question that injuries can change things in a major way.
Heading into the NCAA tournament, it looked as though the Kansas Jayhawks had a legitimate chance to make a deep run, but that may no longer be the case. That's because center Joel Embiid, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft should he declare, is expected to miss the early part of the NCAA tournament with a back injury, according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com.
Kansas head coach Bill Self confirmed that Embiid probably won't be available unless the Jayhawks are able to win at least a couple games in the tourney:
Next weekend, we feel like is a longshot, but the doctors are hopeful that if Joel works hard in rehab and progresses that it is possible that he could play in the later rounds of the NCAA tournament if our team is fortunate enough to advance.
There is no doubt that Kansas is a different team without Embiid. The Jayhawks were 2-1 without him in the regular season, and that included a loss to a mediocre West Virginia team, according to ESPN's Andy Katz:
In last game the selection committee saw Kansas play without Embiid, the Jayhawks lost at West Virginia. KU 2-1 w/o Embiid Ws over TCU/Tech.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) March 11, 2014
Kansas is still extremely talented, and freshman swingman Andrew Wiggins is definitely good enough to put the team on his back. As seen in that West Virginia game, though, Wiggins scored 41 points, and the team still lost.
Kansas may not lose in the first or second round, but the Embiid injury figures to catch up at some point. Embiid's injury is certainly the most significant of injuries entering the tournament, but be sure to monitor injury reports for every tournament team so that you're cognizant of where they stand.
Identify a Cinderella Candidate
Picking a No. 1 or No. 2 seed to win it all on your bracket is usually a good idea, but it seems like an unexpected squad makes a deep run on an almost yearly basis. Predicting which team will shock the world is an extremely difficult exercise, but doing so correctly can be the difference between winning your bracket pool and finishing outside the money.
What is the most important tip to consider when filling out an NCAA tournament bracket?
Wichita State turned the trick last year by reaching the Final Four. Both VCU and Butler made it that far in 2011 with Butler even securing a spot in the finals, which came on the heels of Butler reaching the finals in 2010 as well.
Mid-major teams become more and more competitive on a yearly basis, and it seems like it is only a matter of time before one of them wins it all. Rather than making such a risky prediction, though, having one advance to the Final Four or the Elite Eight at the very least in your bracket is a good idea.
One team to consider is Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are seemingly in the mix every year, but they often crumble under high expectations. The Zags went 28-6 and had a strong season, but there isn't as much pressure this year since they aren't anywhere near a No. 1 seed.
Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com believes that bodes well for their chances in the tournament:
Hard not to be impressed w Gonzaga's dominance. Another year, another WCC title. ZAGS are sneaky good + under the radar heading into NCAAs.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 12, 2014
Gonzaga is far from the only mid-major team that could surprise during March Madness, but it has as good of a shot as any of them. Even if Gonzaga doesn't impress you, try to find at least one Cinderella team capable of busting brackets.
Take Coaching Into Account
While the players on the court are ultimately responsible for the results come tournament time, having a great coach tends to be a deciding factor more often than not. It's no coincidence that teams like Duke and Michigan State are typically in the mix.
The Blue Devils and the Spartans are constantly evolving on the court, but Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo are constants. They know how to win games in the NCAA tournament, and that rubs off on their players. Even if a team isn't playing up to its potential entering the tourney, a great coach is capable of inspiring his team on the big stage.
Michigan is having a strong season, but few consider the Wolverines to be among the title favorites. Michigan reached the finals last year, however, and Carson Cunningham of KOCO 5 Sports believes that head coach John Beilein has changed the culture in Ann Arbor:
John Beilein is a hell of a coach. Michigan hadn't made the NCAA tournament since 1998. Followed up '13 Final Four w/ second Big 10 title.— Carson Cunningham (@KOCOCarson) March 5, 2014
Beilein lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA since last season, but the Wolverines are still contenders. Wooden Award finalist Nik Stauskas gives Michigan a cornerstone player, and Beilein's coaching brings it all together.
Don't sleep on Michigan or any other under-the-radar team with great coaching during the NCAA tournament.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.