The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 19, 2014

10 NCAA basketball tournament bracket strategies that will impress your colleagues

By Eric Pehowic
The Daily Item

— Look. I get it. Some of you don’t follow basketball or sports. But someone handed you this N-C-C-A baseball thing and told you to put the winners of the first round on the next line, and the winners of that round on the next line.

It’ll be fun, they said. Everyone’s filling one out.

Well, let me help you weave your way through the bracket.

Here are 10 sure fire ways to impress your co-workers, or at least give them something to talk about, even if you don’t finish on top:

1. Mascots vs. Mascot

Ah, this one sounds easy. What college doesn't want a fierce animal or a brave soldier/warrior representing their school at athletic events?

Plenty, apparently.

The Delaware Blue Hens will be no match for the Michigan State Spartans. The Creighton Blue Jay might get some indigestion from eating Louisiana-Lafayette's Cayenne, but it'll only survive long enough to get mauled by the Baylor Bear in the next round.

It's not all tweety birds and spicy vegetables though. The Virginia Commonwealth University Ram squares off against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack. We all know how the San Diego State Aztec's matchup against New Mexico State's Pistol Pete ends. Unfortunately, the Wofford Terriers face the Michigan Wolverines in the first round and not the Albany Great Danes, which will be Florida Gator food.

2. Follow the experts

There are a lot of people on the Internet. Most of them aren't wearing tin foil hats. Many of them are smart in the fields they write about and or create videos about. From big guns like ESPN and CBS, to smaller blogs, like the contributors at Bleacher Report, can provide real help.

But unless you're playing for jellybeans, why not roll an original character?

3. Critical Hit!

You may not know what a Tar Heel is, but do you know a 20-sided die when you see one?

This method is easy. Start with a 16-team region. Roll the dice. If you hit a 17-20, re-roll, otherwise any dice roll that matches up with a team seed (1-through-16 per region) advances. Feel free to break out other game dice as the matcups dwindle. Keep rolling until you've filled the in the second round participants in all four regions.

There's no Dungeon Master here to re-seed the teams, so for the rest of the rounds, roll the dice once for each team per matchup. Higher number moves on to the next round.

4. All upsets

Everyone knows a No. 12 seed is going to beat a No. 5 seed in the first round. You didn't know that? Yup, every year.

Upsets are a huge part of the NCAA tournament bracket experience. They are the reason people take off work and why work Internet connections get a workout on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament.

Embrace the upset. A No. 16 seed has to win the tournament some day.

Or, pick all upsets in one round of the tournament and follow the book for every other pick. With the way the tournament has gone in the last few years -- pure insanity -- you could probably do worse.

5. Double letter score

One of my co-workers, reporter Robert Stoneback, pulled off the Scrabble score method a few years back. He didn't win, but he lucked out early by picking a couple upsets with a K and a couple Js. Maybe a V.

The issue you run into is how far you go with the names. I mean, we call them BYU (8 points) and UCLA (6 points), but they're technically Brigham Young University (39 points) and University of California, Los Angeles (46 points). But if we do that we're practically giving this thing to Virginia Commonwealth University (51 points).

6. Literary references

I have to admit I haven't done a ton of research on this one, but as long as you have the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (from Canterbury Tales, 1478) facing the Saint Louis Billikens (More Songs from Vagabondia, 1896) in the final you should be in good shape.

7. Team colors

I'm kidding around in this column, a lot, but I have a story for you about colors.

One of our advertising reps, Laura Ingrassia, filled out a bracket several years ago based on team colors. I can't remember if she was first or not, but she was definitely among the top three after the first two days of the tournament. She didn't finish there, obviously, but it humbled us longtime NCAA bracket nerds for a week and made for some fun conversation.

8. Alphabetical

Like a couple of the other non-contenvional methods on here, this one will make for some interesting brackets. Sure, you'll get a mix of chalk and upsets, but Florida's toast in the first round. Every No. 1 pick except Arizona is getting booted in the first round, actually,  and you'll have an Albany-American final.

As much as we like rooting for an underdog, and as insane as the tournament can be, a No. 16 vs. No. 15 final isn't going to happen. Right?

9. Straight chalk

Chalk picks are picks where the top seeded team wins. This is a simple way to put together a decent-ish bracket. It gaurantees tourney favorites like Florida and Wichita State are in it for you at the end.

It also doesn't involve would-be farm animals. Yawn.

10. Let an animal or small child pick

As I've hinted to in previous blurbs, the tournament gets nutty early and often.

Your guess is as good as mine, which is probably as good as your pot-bellied pig's grunts.