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March 17, 2014

Hints for constructing a tournament bracket

The dos and don’ts for filling out your Big Dance card.

Print out two NCAA brackets.

The first bracket is to be written in pen. This is the one you submit to your office pool.

The second bracket is to remain blank. Keep it safely hidden from friends, family and loved ones. As the tournament goes on, fill it out after the results are in. Give yourself a few losses to make it look legitimate and by the end of the tournament amaze your friends when you have “accurately” guessed all four Final Four teams.

If you, however, insist on playing the NCAA tournament straight, here are some hints to keep in mind:

Tip One: Don’t get cute in the Elite Eight, Final Four or title game.

Parity is a mirage. Parity exists only in the Round of 64, 32 and every now and then Sweet 16. As a No. 1 seed, picking Wichita State out of the Missouri Valley is not a “cute” pick. The Shockers were in the Final Four last season. The Final Four should be power teams.

Tip two: Don’t fall in love with your alma mater.

This includes graduates of Duke, Kansas, Florida, etc. The love we have for our school blinds and confuses us during the precious hours of making the right picks. Ruthless pragmatism is required to fill out brackets. Put that degree to some good use and remind yourself that although you may be a proud graduate of the Harvard of the Midwest (Kansas), this team’s chances of winning a title without center Joel Embiid are dead.

Tip three: Stay away from Virginia and Wisconsin.

UVA is a No. 1 seed and Wisconsin is a No. 2. Both teams play lock-down defense, but rely on painful offenses that can’t be relied on to score when the possessions get tight. Teams that play it too close to the vest always get popped. Teams that find a happy medium between playing defense and scoring tend to win.

Tip four: Embrace the 12 over 5.

There is always some big upset in this matchup, and this year’s bracket features two such possibilities: No. 12 Stephen F. Austin vs. No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth, and the winner of the N.C. State/Xavier game vs. No. 5. Saint Louis. Both higher seeds in this game are ripe to lose.

Tip five: No more than two.

Pick two “cute” schools for the Sweet 16, and the rest go with the power conference teams.

Tip six: Beware of the one-man show.

No one player will be more fun to watch than Creighton senior forward Doug McDermott, who has scored more than 3,000 points in his career. He plays for a team that scores a lot, but he is the Bluejays’ offense. T.J. Warren of North Carolina State and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick are in the same category. These are all great individual players who are going to need help to reach the Sweet 16.

Tip seven: Don’t listen to sportswriters.

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