If you've spent most of the morning trying to remember your password for your NCAA tournament pool website and realizing that any tips you find one moment will be contradicted by other tips the next, then congratulations. You've already begun the madness of March. Before you start procrastinating from work in order fill out your brackets, read this important point-by-point guide on how to win your office pool or, more likely, lose it with supreme dignity. Some of our tips are obvious, others are fair, some are downright dirty. But, as they say, all's fair in love and vaguely illegal gambling.
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Fill out a bracket
This might not be as obvious as it seems. There's a growing number of bracket agnostics out there and I get it - which is a lie because I don't. Why wouldn't you ever fill out a bracket? It's what makes the NCAA tournament so much fun. Sure, it also makes it more painful, but at least you're feeling something, you know?
This isn't like fantasy football which you should absolutely quit because it's horrible, can be won with no skill and doesn't make NFL Sunday any better or worse. On the flip, a penciled-in NCAA tournament bracket is what makes the first four days of the tournament the most exciting of the year. You probably couldn't name a player on 60 of the 68 teams in the tournament (and that's a conservative estimate) but every game matters to you because you've written down a winner and attached your dreams of $95 and the title of office pool champion to it. Go through the madness without a bracket and you're just aimlessly flipping to game after game, which nothing to differentiate Iona-Winthrop from Arkansas-Seton Hall. Make that bracket and you'll get to see the result of 32 bets in 36 hours starting Thursday at noon. What more could you want?
The pool is a communal experience, like watching the Super Bowl or being an echo-chamber elitist on Twitter. It's like sitting at a blackjack table with dozens of your closet friends and some random hangers-on you don't know but who always seem to win more than you. Not having a bracket is like saying you don't own a TV. It's pretentious. Who are you to say you're better than America?
Brian SpurlockBrian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Don't be beholden to your bracket
One complaint about pools is that it forces you to root against the upsets you don't pick. Nonsense. If a 16 seed is about to pull the first-ever win on a No. 1, then true sports fans knows where their priorities lie. And let's say you have UCLA winning it all and the Bruins' first-round opponent, Kent State, is on the verge of pulling the No. 14 over No. 3 upset, you have to root for Kent State. It's mandated. There's always next year for a bracket. There's only one chance to see Lonzo Ball's father cry in the stands.
Richard MacksonRichard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Duke is disliked. People often pick teams based on how much they like them. Ergo, there's a market inefficiency on Duke, with less people picking them than they should. Correct this. Moneyball it up and then go trip somebody in celebration. Yes, you'll have a period of self-loathing but haven't you heard the never-before-disproved axiom that money cures all, even the stench of having to root for Mike Krzyzewski?
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Be like the Lannisters and pay your debts. Whatever the entry fee is for your pool, pay it immediately, preferably before you start your bracket. Do not be the Lannisters and shove youngsters out the window because they threaten your bracket dominance. (But maybe that'd backfire because the child would start seeing the future with that weird, dead-eyed kid, his sister and the raven? I don't know. That show still confuses me.)
If you're playing online, come up with a clever name for your entry. Make a new name every year, but do not make every name a reference to Murder, She Wrote because then people start to talk about you behind back. Or at least you think they are.
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever watch the first-round games, see which team lost and say, "oh, I almost picked them!" Yeah, of course you did. There were only two options! It's like flipping a coin, seeing it comes up heads and saying "damn, I was *thisclose* to calling that."
President Trump won't be filling out a bracket like President Obama had done before. So if you used to base your picks off presidential tips, here's what you might have heard this week from 45:
"New Mexico State has a tremendous defense - tremendous. The best I've ever seen. Those hombres have such good a defense and since they play home games just 50 miles from the border that they'd make a great wall. A great wall. The great wall. And the best part is, we don't have to pay the players to make it because you know, it's the NCAA."
[via tweet] "Meryl Streep Grayson Allen is the most overrated actress actor in Hollywood the tournament."
"I love the poor-ly seeded. Love. I care more about New Orleans and UC Davis than anybody. Anybody."
"Who is Trump University playing?"
Don't let anybody else's picks affect your own
No one knows anything about the NCAA tournament. The smartest guys in college basketball don't win their pools and I'd wager that most probably finish in the middle or bottom more times than not. Why? The tournament isn't chalk. Unpredictability is what makes it so fun. Now, smart people obviously know what they're talking about. But knowledge isn't a great currency in brackets. You can correctly say, as a friend of mine did on Twitter last night, that UNC-Wilmington is a good team but got a really tough draw against Virginia. That's correct. But no one, especially a pundit, would suggest it means UNCW can't win the game. They're just in a worse spot than if they'd drawn, say, Minnesota. Absorb the tips but don't make them the end-all. For instance, my big tip, which may or may not be right, is to go all-in on St. Mary's.
Kevin JairajKevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
You can't win if your fellow poolers don't lose. Thus, starting a campaign of disinformation can go a long way. The best way to start? Have a blatant disregard for the truth. For example:
• Tell everybody your big tip is to go all-in on St. Mary's.
• Convince people that any team playing on truTV is required to start at least one member of the Impractical Jokers cast.
• Convince people that any team playing on CBS on Friday night has to have its players grow mustaches like Tom Selleck on Blue Bloods.
• Inform folks that Coach K doesn't have a great feeling about Duke so he's going to step aside for Pete Gaudet to take the loss.
• Claim that one team from the First Four automatically makes it to the Final Four. When it's mentioned that "first" doesn't have much relation to "final"," change the subject to Tom Selleck.
Noah K. MurrayNoah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Keep yourself in the game
Your whole goal in filling out a bracket is to keep yourself in the pool as long as possible. Survive and thrive. How do you do that? Have some fun with the first-round games, picking a couple of 5/12, 4/13 or 3/14 upsets, with the victim being a team you wouldn't have picked to make the Sweet 16 anyway. (For instance: I don't like Notre Dame to beat West Virginia in the second round, so I'm going to pick against Notre Dame in the first round - against Princeton - not because I think it'll happen but because it could happen and it's a value gamble since I have WVU getting to the third line anyway.) But once you get past the first round, play it relatively safe.
Unless you're in an upset-rewarded pool (always check the format), there's never a reason to pick a No. 1 seed to lose on the first weekend. It may happen, yes, but if it doesn't you've just fallen behind probably 80% of your pool. There's not enough reward for the risk. Keep the 1s and 2s around and then build the rest of your bracket around the non-No. 1 seeds you're going to pick to make the Final Four, whether it's one team or two. Pick your Final Four, then build a chalky bracket around it. Also, pick at least two No. 1s to make the Final Four. That's just good bracketing.
Eric Christian SmithAP photo
How to win with class
Don't act like you've done anything greater than guess the amount of jelly beans in the jar. Winning a pool is like taking home the money in a raffle. Play off your win with self-deprecation and then award the title to Moonlight.
DO NOT hedge your bets. If you are in a normal-sized pool and you'll get $500 if UNC wins the title game and $0 if Villanova does, you could bet $250 on Villanova to ensure that you win $250 regardless of the outcome. Don't do this. It's lame, like Syracuse's road schedule. (If you're in a big money pool, hedge away, you chicken.)
If you win, throw a little something to the person running the pool. They'll greatly appreciate the gesture and certainly not waste the money buying Murder, She Wrote DVDs.
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How to lose with dignity
There's just one way to lose with your dignity in tact: Always claim that a child filled out your bracket. It doesn't matter who - a son, daughter, niece, nephew, grandson, granddaughter, next-door neighbor, that kid from Lion, the Girl Scout you bought 15 boxes of Thin Mints from, the other Girl Scout you bought 10 boxes of Tag Alongs from, grandson, granddaughter, Grayson Allen. Whoever. That way, if you lose you can be all "well, at least the kid had a great time, but that's what you get when you let a seven-year-old fill out your bracket." And then if you win you can take full credit for it because, come on, they're a kid; what are they gonna do? Except trip you, perhaps.