Like the movie Groundhog Day, every year is just like the last.
You fill out your NCAA college basketball office pool sheet with great expectations and high hopes.
And then some jerk in accounting wins the big prize (unless you are a jerk in accounting, then it's a jerk in some other department).
Inevitably, the winner thinks that March Madness is a rare springtime paranoia disorder.
They think that a double dribble is what they get on their shirt or blouse after lunching on a bowl of soup. Someone in the office mentions the triangle and 2, and they ask if it's anything like the Pythagorean Theorem.
In other words, they know nothing about college basketball.
Well, this year your luck will change.
In your corner advising you on filling out your bracket is one of the top college basketball minds in the world. No, not Billy Packer. ESPN's Doug Gottlieb wasn't available and either was CBS's Seth Davis. All right, maybe not one of the top college basketball minds in the world, but certainly one of the top minds that sit in my row of cubicles at The Minot Daily News. But then again, there are only three of us in this row.
Well, maybe lately I haven't exactly lived up to my self-imposed title of the Baron of Bracketology, but I still have some tips that can help you get an edge on the rest of the office in the annual NCAA college basketball pool.
When you're hot, you're hot
There are always teams that enter the NCAA Tournament on a hot streak and continue that streak right into the Final Four. This year should be no different. So which teams enter the tourney with big winning streaks?
Memphis hasn't lost a game since before Christmas, although most of its wins have come against the patsies in Conference USA.
Midwest top seed Louisville enters with a 10-game winning streak after winning the incredibly tough Big East Conference Tournament. Gonazaga enters play this week the winner of 18 of its last 19.
Before falling to Florida State in the ACC tourney, North Carolina had won 14 of 15 games. Duke has won 8 of 9 including a run through the ACC tourney.
Before losing its first game of the Big East tourney, Pittsburgh had won 10 of 11 against tough conference competition, including two wins over West top seed UConn.
Oh, and those pesky North Dakota State Bison have won 18 of their last 19 games.
Guards will get you there
If there's one position that has the biggest effect on deciding basketball games at tournament time, it's the guards.
They have the ball in their hands down the stretch and determine who gets the ball and where they get it in crunch time. Need proof? Look what super-talented guard Stephon Curry was able to do for Davidson in last year's tourney.
So which teams have the best stable of guards?
Undoubtedly, North Carolina, with Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson are among the best in the country. A number of people got a chance to see Syracuse's backcourt tandem of Johnny Flynn and Eric Devendorf shine at the Big East Tournament.
Duke guard John Scheyer has played well as of late, and his backcourt mate Gerard Henderson is one of the most explosive players in college hoops. Arizona State's James Harden is a stone-cold stud and UCLA point man Darren Collison has been through many an NCAA tourney battle.
Just for fun, let's add in NDSU's dynamic duo of Ben Woodside and Mike Nelson.
The Secretary Strategy
There is little doubt who is the best group in the office when it comes to making picks in the NCAA pools - secretaries.
The have a highly-refined and time-honored method for making picks.
This method includes favorite team colors (pastels are preferred), team mascots (the more docile, the better) and the best vacation spots (as in... Ohh, Binghamton University... Gosh honey, wouldn't it be fantastic to take a trip to upstate New York?!?)
It's always wise to pick a few teams based on this method. Louisville is a triple winner in the Secretary Strategy. Not only is it a lovely place to visit during the Kentucky Derby, but its mascot is the Cardinals and the team color is a very fetching burgundy.
Good conferences = good teams
It doesn't take a genius (I figured it out) to realize that teams from good conferences are going to be battle-tested when March Madness arrives.
The Big East was by far the best conference this year, boasting three No. 1 seeds in the tournament. The Big East tournament showed that the conference has depth as well, as No. 6 seed Syracuse reached the final and West Virginia knocked off No. 2 seed Pittsburgh.
The Big East has seven teams in the tourney - so do the ACC and Big Ten. The Big Ten has good depth, but doesn't have the high-end teams that the ACC does like North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest. All three spent time at No. 1 during the regular season.
Both the Big 12 and Pac 10 received six berths into the field of 65.
12 over the 5
Each and every year, there are major upsets in the first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The key is selecting the right ones. Traditionally, at least one, and often two No. 12 seeds upset No. 5 seeds.
Midwest No. 12 seed Arizona was a controversial pick to even be selected to the tournament, but could pose a problem for No. 5 seed Utah. A 12-5 upset may be brewing in the South, where No. 12 Western Kentucky will face Illinois. The Illini are 3-4 in their last seven games and have been just mediocre since starting their season 16-1.
The No. 5 seed in East, Florida State, is coming off a strong showing at the ACC tourney and shouldn't be a candidate for an upset. The final No. 5 seed, Purdue, is coming off a championship at the Big Ten Tournament and will be a solid favorite against Northern Iowa.
Although UCLA is only a No. 6 seed, the Bruins have made the last three Final Fours. That's a lot of experience from their senior class. Memphis made the championship game last year and has some key returners from that club, sans NBA pick Derrick Rose. Kansas lost most of its title team of a year ago, but point guard Sherron Collins returns to run the show.
North Carolina made the Sweet 16 two years ago and the Final Four last year. Tennessee has been up and down this year, but has qualified for the Sweet 16 each of the past two seasons. West No. 2 seed Michigan State always seems to find a way to make a run in March.
Conversely, South No. 2 seed Oklahoma has virtually np experience advancing late in the tourney. Duke has struggled in the early rounds of the tournament in the past few years and UConn is just a year removed from a first-round loss to San Diego in the NCAA Tournament.
My Final Four
Last year all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four. That won't happen this year. There is way too much parity in college basketball and too many good teams for that to happen again.
I see top seeds making it through the bracket in two regions. North Carolina will have to get past either a tough Syracuse team or a back-sliding Oklahoma team to get to the finals and the Tar Heels can do it. Pittsburgh has as many quality wins as anyone in the nation and has the toughness to get past No. 2 seed Duke to the Final Four. In the West, Memphis has something to prove. The Tigers gave away last year's championship and still get no respect nationally from playing in crappy Conference USA.
No. 4 seed Wake Forest is my upset special to come out of the Midwest. The Demon Deacons are 10-2 against teams in the NCAA tournament and hold wins over North Carolina and Duke. Good luck and let the Madness begin.
(Chris Bieri is a sports writer for The Minot Daily News. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)