Play Like A Pro: A Guide to Winning Your NCAA Basketball Tournament Bracket

March MadnessFor basketball fans, March means bracket time. Setting up your NCAA Tournament bracket might be a cakewalk for avid college basketball fans, but if you're like me, you're scratching your head and wondering how to get in on the action without exposing a complete lack of knowledge regarding the current state of men's college basketball. If you're one of those people, consider this a lifeline. Here we will outline some of the surprisingly simple ways you can increase your chances of winning your pool, even if you don't know a lot about college basketball.

First, a bit of background.

A bracket is a visual representation of the elimination and progression of each of the 68 competing college basketball teams during tournament play. A pool is a betting structure wherein each of the players pays a buy-in fee that is then split among the winner or winners. Sometimes all you play for are bragging rights. If one of your friends, family members or co-workers asks you to participate in their March bracket pool, fear not.

After reading our guide, you'll be feeling March Happiness.

63 games is a lot. Relax. You don't have to be a sports fanatic or a fortune teller to pick your winners. Being part of a bracket pool is fun and easy with a few pointers from us. You don't need to correctly pick the winners of every game to win the pool. Points are awarded for each game outcome that you correctly predict, the pool winner being the one who earned the highest number of points. Furthermore, there are a few tricks of the trade that make winning your bracket pool easier than you might expect.

Pro Tip #1: Trust the Seeds

On Selection Sunday, a super-exclusive Selection Committee will seed each of the teams into four competing regions. That means the 68 teams will receive a seed of 1 through 17 within their region. These seedings roughly correspond to each team's rankings going into the tournament. While everybody loves an underdog, each team's seeding is a pretty reliable measure of where they will end up, at least as far as the Sweet Sixteen is concerned. Assume the top seeded teams will make it to the Sweet Sixteen, and choose a highly seeded team (No. 4 or higher) to win the trophy.

Tip-off: However, there is an exception to this rule: in the first round of games it is likely that the No. 12 seed will beat the No. 5 seeded team, at least according to history. Go ahead and throw an upset in there. Maybe two if you are feeling dangerous.

Pro Tip #2: Do Your Yesearch

While you don't need to know the free-throw percentage of every player on Duke's starting lineup, a basic familiarity with a team's strengths and weaknesses will be a big help as you narrow down your bracket from 16 teams to one.

Tip-off: If you only consider four stats, make them shooting, turnovers, rebounding and free throws. These measure the essential facets of a team's performance and should give you an overall picture of its chance of success.

Pro Tip #3: Go with Your Gut

There is no denying that winning your pool is going to require a bit of luck. The NCAA basketball tournament is single elimination - one strike and you're out. This makes for an exciting event as favorites succumb to underdogs in one fell swoop, but it also makes predicting a winner a little tricky. Alternative methods to research-focused 2014 NCAA bracket selection include what we like to call:

The Mascot Rumble: Whose mascot would win in a no-holds-barred cage match? While this may seem like a no-brainer for teams like the Michigan Wolverines and the Kansas Jayhawks, the strategy breaks down for teams like the Syracuse Orange and the Ohio State Buckeyes. That's OK. Maybe you like oranges? Or you have a thing for Brutus' scarlet and grey sweater. Pick your favorite mascot and go with your gut. 

The Coin Toss: When you are talking about the top teams in the NCAA, the odds of either one winning are about even. You have a 50/50 shot, right?

The Premonition: There is something poetic about the word Villanova. "I think one of my cousins knew somebody at Wichita State." "I think the bartender from last night went to Arizona." When you go with your gut, all reasons are valid.

So there you have it. For a winning your 2014 NCAA bracket, all you have to do is trust the seeds, do a little research, and try your luck. You may be surprised at how well you actually do.

Who do you think will take home the NCAA National Championship trophy?

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