The NCAA men's basketball tournament is filled with surprises, and even the most intelligent college basketball experts end up with ugly draws that are filled with tremendous oversight when April rolls around.

That's why it's called March Madness -- anything can happen.

College basketball is packed with 19-year-olds who play 40-minute games in cities they've never been to before, and against opponents they may never have heard of. Countless hours of scouting and research often mean little when a team goes down simply because they couldn't knock down their free throws, which is often the case.

However, there are some simple rules to follow when filling out your brackets, and come ahead in the office pool.

1) Focus on the Final Four. As much as it's tempting to fill out the early rounds and keep your fingers crossed that your ninth-seed team pulls off an upset over the eight-seed team, the points in winning the later rounds mean far more. The best strategy before filling out a bracket is to look at each region and choose the team you think has the best chance to come out of it. It's not always a No. 1 seed, and it's very rare for four No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four, but your chances are probably better with a No. 1 than any other seed.

2) Never Pick a No. 16 seed. The No. 1 seed is almost guaranteed to advance out beyond its first game. Sure, it's fun to pick an upset, and you will look like a genius at the water cooler the next day if it happens, but it will be disastrous to lose a great number of points if that No. 1 seed goes to the Final Four or beyond.

3) Factor in location. When Team A have a long distance to travel to the neutral site, and Team B have a short distance to travel to that same neutral site, Team A will be at a major disadvantage before tip off. When the site of the game is far, it cuts down on practice time, messes with the players' sleep clock, and the number of fans to support them also tends to be thinner.

4) Go with seniors. More experienced players tend to do better in March than younger players. Younger players are usually more fatigued after a rather grueling regular season, and underclassmen also appear overwhelmed by the spotlight and confusion of playing on a neutral court against an unlikely opponent. Teams packed with upperclassmen, and mainly seniors, usually have an edge because they've often been to the tournament before and have better leadership skills.

5) Factor free-throw shooting. College basketball is packed with players who have not mastered the skill of shooting from the free-throw line. Unlike the NBA, college basketball has a single bonus and double bonus system. In the single bonus system, if the free-throw shooter misses the first free throw, and the opposing team rebounds the miss, it's basically a turnover for the team shooting free throws. A team that can knock down their free throws has a strong edge over those that can't.

6) Avoid picking too many upsets. Sure, those people who picked George Mason to go to the Final Four in 2006 got a chance to gloat for days, but if your upset pick to go deep in the tourney falls short in the first round (and that happens a lot), your bracket is screwed. Unless you have great knowledge of college basketball, don't take too many chances. Play it safe, because that's what most people are doing, too.

Here's a look at our predictions for the 2012 NCAA Tournament (take it for what it's worth)


Mississippi Valley State over WKU

Kentucky over Mississippi Valley State

Iowa State over UConn

Wichita State over VCU

New Mexico State over Indiana

UNLV over Colorado

Baylor over South Dakota St.

Xavier over Notre Dame

Duke over Lehigh

Kentucky over Iowa St.

New Mexico State over Wichita St.

Baylor over UNLV

Duke over Xavier

Kentucky over New Mexico St.

Duke over Baylor

Kentucky over Duke


BYU over Iona

Michigan St. over LIU Brooklyn

St. Louis over Memphis

Long Beach St. over New Mexico

Louisville over Davidson

Murray St. over Colorado St.

Marquette over BYU

Florida over Virginia

MIssouri over Norfolk St.

Michigan St over St. Louis

Louisville over Long Beach St.

Murray St over Marquette

Missouri over Florida

Michigan St. over Louisville

Murray St over Missouri

Murray St over Michigan St. (Yes, a big upset)


Syracuse over UNC Asheville

Kansas St. over Southern Miss

Harvard over Vanderbilt

Wisconsin over Montana

Texas over Cincinnati

St. Bonaventure over over Florida St.

West Virgina over Gonzaga

Ohio State over Loyola (MD)

Syracuse over Kansas St.

Wisconsin over Harvard

Texas over St. Bonaventure

Ohio State over West Virginia

Syracuse over Wisconsin

Ohio State over Texas

Syracuse over Ohio State


Vermont over Lamar

California over South Florida

North Carolina over Vermont

Alabama over Creighton

Temple over California

Michigan over Ohio

San Diego State over NC State

Georgetown over Belmont

Purdue over Saint Mary's

Kansas over Detroit

North Carolina over Alabama

Temple over Michigan

Georgetown over San Diego St.

Kansas over Purdue

North Carolina over Temple

Kansas over Georgetown

North Carolina over Kansas


Kentucky over Murray St.

North Carolina over Syracuse

North Carolina over Kentucky

(But what do we know?)