The greatest stretch in sports is here.
The 2017 NCAA Tournament is already dominating American sports talk and the next few weeks will be filled with brackets and upsets.
While many people feel comfortable navigating their way through a bracket and making their own selections, some people are a bit newer to this and need some basic tips and guidance on how to look things over and get things done.
So here’s a look at some basic guidelines to follow so that you at least sound like you’re up to speed on things when you have to get in an awkward discussion with your boss about his alma mater after a meeting. He expects you to know something about Big Ten basketball. You want that promotion, right? You better know something about Big Ten basketball.
We’ll help you get there.
RELATED: Printable NCAA Tournament Bracket
1. Fill out one bracket only. One. Don’t be that person who fills out multiple brackets and brags about “your other bracket” that nobody is interested in. That person is always the worst.
There is no honor in winning a bracket pool if you fill out multiple brackets. This is America and you have to stick with your bad decisions and ride with them until the very end. It’s what we do.
2. Don’t be afraid to make changes to your bracket up until the Thursday afternoon games tip off. You have a few days of analysis to go over and you can take your time sifting through the proper information and filling this thing out. College Basketball Talk and NBCSports.com have plenty have great stuff to go over (shameless plug).
3. Pick the teams you care about and against the teams you can’t stand (to the best of your abilities). If you’re an Ohio State fan, then don’t pick Michigan as you sulk at home without a bid.. If you’re a Northwestern graduate and they’re in the tournament for the first time, then definitely pick them. People understand sports love and hate in ways that translate all boundaries. Stick with those convictions.
4. Pay attention to the news and happenings of college basketball — if only for the week. Prime example last year: Cal lost leading scorer Tyrone Wallace to a broken hand during practice on Wednesday night with their first-round game coming on Friday afternoon. The Bears lost to No. 13 seed Hawaii in the first round. If you pay attention to things like that, it can help sway a late decision.
5. A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed. We just had to get this out of the way.
6. A No. 12 seed always beats a No. 5 seed. Find a No. 12 seed that you feel good about and ride that pick with supreme confidence. In some years, multiple No. 12 seeds beat multiple No. 5 seeds. Throw out a couple of those upsets if you’re feeling it. Get wild with it. This year’s crop of 5/12 games has four scary matchups once again. It’s always among the toughest group of games to gauge.
7. You also need to find a double-digit seed that you feel comfortable riding to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. It happens every year. Maybe it’s the 12 seed you just feel in love with? Or maybe you settle in with a No. 11 seed you feel comfortable with. You could even take both of them and really have some fun with it.
8. Don’t be afraid to pick upsets in general. But also be cautious of picking upset teams to advance too far. Double-digit seeds rarely make the Final Four and they’ve never won a title. If you have one or two going to the Sweet 16 it isn’t crazy at all.
9. Looking into a conference’s bid totals never hurts. The sooner you learn that the ACC was awesome this year and the Big Ten and Pac-12 were trash, the more it will help your bracket.
10. The Rule of 10. Check out how a team has played in their last 10 games. Sometimes it’s easy to spot a team in a freefall. But you can never tell that by simply looking at overall record and seed. On paper, you might think 15-loss Vanderbilt could fall into the category of struggling teams. They’ve actually won seven of nine games entering the NCAA Tournament as one of the hotter teams in the country.
11. Going over game locations never hurts. Good example in this year’s East Region: No. 7 seed South Carolina takes on No. 10 seed Marquette in a pretty even matchup.
Except this game is being played in Greenville, South Carolina. And the Gamecocks have been to one NCAA Tournament since 1998 and haven’t won a game since 1973. Those fans could be a huge boost in a tight game. There are multiple examples of small things like that you can find on the bracket. Put that geography knowledge to use.
12. It’s extremely rare that all four No. 1 seeds make the Final Four. You definitely need to find a top seed and drop them before the games reach Glendale. Which, for 95 percent of you, will mean Gonzaga.
12. For whatever reason, don’t ride with No. 6 seeds. We haven’t seen one reach the Final Four since 1992.
13. Also don’t be scared to take one of the teams from the First Four games (Wake Forest, Kansas State, Providence and USC) and have them advance into at least the Round of 32. It’s happened every year. We’ve even seen teams from the First Four move on to the Sweet 16 and beyond like VCU’s Final Four run. Here’s a hint: one of this year’s teams played in the toughest conference in the country and has an All-American on the roster.
14. If the rules of filling out a bracket get to be too much, just have fun and don’t stress out about it. Part of the joy of March Madness is getting distracted from work or school during the week and getting to watch some basketball.
Picking an upset is a thrilling experience and watching a team you picked advance into the Final Four leaves you with an accomplished feeling.
This is the best time of year. Best of luck to everyone filling out their bracket.