March Madness. The NCAA basketball tournament by any other name would still be March Madness. If you ever picked up a basketball in the back yard during your childhood then a mental conversation something like this probably took place:

back yard goal"Only four seconds to play, the home team down by 2 points! He takes the inbounds pass and drives the ball across half court. Three seconds left! No one can get open. He fakes left and flashes toward the right side of the lane. Two seconds! The lane is clogged with bodies. He steps back behind the three point line. ONE SECOND! His defender runs at him. He shoots, the balls in the air and the horn sounds and...HE MADE IT! HE MADE IT! WE WIN!"

But for every Danny Ainge or Tyus Edney that lived that dream there are tens of thousands like me who didn't. Since my body wouldn't let me beat others at basketball on the court, I content myself with beating them off it in bracket pools. Like the game of basketball though you need to have strategy, a plan of attack to be successful.

#1. Teams are seeded where they are for a reason.

I realize that the tournament selection committee does some strange things sometimes. Seeding one team ahead of another despite strength of schedule or sending a team out west to help "competitive balance" while you think a less deserving team gets to stay close to home. You need to keep this in mind. The selection committee is made up of people who deal with college athletics for a living. For example, the current men's committee is made up of 8 university athletic directors and 2 conference commissioners. They know a good team when they see them. Since the tournament began in it's current format, the teams seeded #1,2,3, and 4 are a combined 374 wins and 42 losses in the first round. That is a 90% win rate and if we look at just the 1 and 2 seeds they have 204 wins and just 4 losses or a 98%. If you are going to pick against this group wait till at least the second round.

#2. Cinderella will come to the dance, but only for a little while.

One of the most fun things about filling out your brackets is picking the right upset. I've already told you what a tough task that is with the 4 highest seeds but seeds 5,6,7, and 8 provide plenty of opportunity to show how smart you are. Your best bet percentage-wise is the 8 vs. 9 game. The better seed (8's) in these games actually have a losing record in the first round. A popular legend is "A 12 seed always knocks off a 5 seed every year." isn't true. Like most legends though this one is rooted in some facts. 12 seeds have better than a 43% winning percentage against 5 seeds. Many upset special picks in the 5 -12 game have made me look really smart. Now, don't fall in love with what every "little team that could" you found. The lowest seed ever to make the final four is an 11 seed. George Mason in 2006 and LSU 20 years before in 1986. Neither team made it to the championship game. The lowest seed ever to win the entire thing was Villanova as an 8 seed. Yes it could happen again but remember rule #1, teams are seeded where they are at for a reason.

#3. March Madness is about schools so do your home work.

To be knowledgeable about anything you have to study that topic. Watching highlights on ESPN does not count. Watching the year end conference tournaments do count. Think of it as "cramming' for an exam. March Madness isn't about who the best team is or has been all season. It's about who can win 6 games in a row . You need to watch these teams play that will be your potential upset picks in rounds 1 and 2. The second round especially is all about style. If you are a highly regarded team you'll probably be matched up with a team you've never heard of and know little about. It is hard to prepare for a team in only one day. You don't have to go back in time far to see how successful Butler was last year. They had more than just style though, they could flat out play. If you'd done your homework you'd have known that.

#4. Choose your opponents wisely.

It's one thing to compete in your local office pool against secretaries who choose teams based on the colors of their uniforms or against biased "homers" who think that just because they have a diploma from a school means their alma mater will be in the final four every year. It's quite another to drop a bunch of money down and compete against professional gamblers and handicappers online. These strategies will help you be successful and win one or two more games in your pool. They will not help you deplete Las Vegas of money. The brackets are supposed to be fun just like hitting that last second shot in the back yard. Let's keep it that way.