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2011 NCAA Bracket Guidelines: Beginner's Guide to Picking the Winning Bracket

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Now, for anyone who has ever run a March Madness pool, or has recruited friends to join their pool, you know this response: "Oh, I really haven't followed the teams much this year," or "I don't watch college basketball." As someone who has run his own pool for 10 years now, this frustrates me, since I have never finished first in any pool, be it mine or anyone else's. I've placed in the money enough times, but, just like Fantasy Football, the title eludes me.

Luckily now you'll have something to say in response to these people, as I present to you five different ways of filling out your brackets this year. And those of you who claim to be "experts" but like myself have somehow never won the title might want to consider switching it up this year, especially if you've got a pool where not much is on the line. By the way, did you see STL is sponsoring a pool where you could win $25?

Option One: Coin Flip. But wait. It's not just your regular coin flip.  This is actually a tried-and-true method. The first year I ever ran a pool, a buddy of mine didn't have time to make his picks, so he gave me a ring and asked him to follow these steps precisely for him and enter a bracket on his behalf. I ended up getting second place that year, while he got the title, the glory, the fame. Here's what he did. First, just pick all the top seeds to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, but flip a coin for the 8-9 matchups. I know, stupid so far, right? When you are filling out the rest of the bracket, just flip a coin, all the way through the final game. This works best in a year where there just aren't too many upsets (I'm lookin' at you, Cornell).

Option Two: Mascots. This is a highly scientific method of filling out your brackets. We all know that Texas's mascot is much cuter than Duke's Blue Devil, but we also know that humans eat beef like it's their job, which means that if you have a Duke-Texas matchup, the Devil's going to destroy the Longhorn. So when you're making your picks, remember it's not the "aww" factor that matters, it's the simple laws of nature. The food chain. Syracuse's Orangeman is cute as all gets out, but a ram will destroy an orange like there's no tomorrow, so don't pick Syracuse over North Carolina. Here's the tricky part of this game though. In order to make a pick following this option, you'll need to have some vague sense of what the school's mascot is. This means that if you can't for the life of you think of what the Wofford mascot will be, I don't care how vicious it may be (it's a Terrier), it may as well not exist, and that school won't advance. You may need to bring out the Encyclopedia Britannica to understand the food chain completely.

Option Three: Go on gut. But pick the opposite of your gut. Here's how this works. On your way to the Sweet Sixteen, go ahead and pick all the 1, 2 and 3 seeds. This ensures that you get at least some points and won't be the laughing stock of your pool. But for the rest of the field, see what your gut says, and then go with the exact opposite. Why? Because then you can say, "I totally picked Belmont to upset Wisconsin!" Bragging rights, baby. It's all about bragging rights. Plus, if you don't know much about college basketball and you remember hearing vaguely from a few years ago that Memphis is great and therefore you should pick them, it might be worth it to go against your gut there. The law of averages, supposedly, will bring you to a respectable above-average finish in your pool, with the benefit of bragging rights for all those totally sweet upsets you just picked.

Option Four: The value of a college lies solely in its alumni. Think about all the famous athletes, celebrities, politicians, etc. that come out of each school, and make your picks solely on that. Pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg graduated from San Diego State. He was the top draft pick that year and went on to be named to the 2010 Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team his first year in the pros. I can't think of anyone that came out of No. Colorado, so I think Strasburg San Diego St. advances. But let's look at the potential matchup in Round 2: Temple. Do you know who is a Temple alumnus? BILL COSBY. Couple this awesome trivia fact with knowing that Strasburg was injured that season, and really, there's no other option than to go with a Temple upset of SDSU in the second round. This will take some major wikipedia effort on your part, but I think I've proven that this is fail safe.

Option Five: A city so nice they named it twice. This one may require some level of travel on your part. First, write the names of all 68 teams onto little pieces of paper. Second, run to the top of the Empire State Building (Note: The Sears Tower may work as well. Due to being surrounded by water, it is not recommended that you use the Statue of Liberty for this exercise.). Make sure no one is looking, or at least no one with a gun/taser/semiofficial-looking badge. Now, in a Titanic Heart-of-the-Ocean type moment, drop all the little pieces of paper. Here's where athleticism comes into play. Make your way down to the bottom as quickly as humanly possible. Try not to critically injure anyone along the way, but know that there's a lot at stake here. When you get to the bottom, be aware that authorities may be waiting for you, but if they're not, see if you can find any piece of paper that you just tossed. If you do, then fate is telling you that that team is a winner. Santa Barbara 2011!!

So there you have it. The next time someone comes up to you and claims that they can't participate in the pool this year on account of a lack of any basketball knowledge, please refer them to this handy little guide. Good luck, everyone, and GO HOOS! I can't wait for 2012.