Tips for that NCAA bracket 

End Zone

If you're like most people, you're finally starting to pay attention to college basketball about ... now. Perhaps you've kept up with a few favorite teams, but you realize it's time to start preparing for March Madness.

After all, the NCAA Selection Show will air at 4 p.m. our time Sunday, with CBS making the official announcements region by region, and ESPN providing commentary and analysis for hours thereafter.

Most likely, you're planning on entering that office bracket pool, or the one at your favorite watering hole, though you also might check into the Independent's online contest ($500 to the winner) at marchtothechampionship.com.

Regardless of your plans, my intent here is to provide you with as much initial information and advice as possible. Then you can go to our website, csindy.com, on Sunday night for updates of potential upset picks and other surprises, based on the actual brackets.

Now, a few tips for those who want to have a chance of success:

• Don't go crazy on predicting wild upsets. In other words, pick the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in each of the four regions to win at least one game each, if not two. There's a reason for their prominence; they've earned it. Just remember this: If somebody like a Kentucky or Duke loses early, rest assured that 99 percent of the entrants in any pool will miss that game, just like you.

• In fact, it's usually safe to assume at least two No. 1 seeds will make it all the way to the Final Four. So don't try to look smart by guessing that Kansas or North Carolina will slip the first weekend. Consider this: No. 1 seeds have never lost in the first round since the tournament grew to 64 teams, and since 1993, No. 2 seeds have a record of 92-4 in their tournament openers.

• It's OK, especially if you know what you're doing, to take a flyer on one underdog team going far, as Butler has done the past two years. Those mid-major conferences, as they're commonly called, have improved measurably in the past decade, enough that you can almost count on a surprise team (usually meaning a No. 6 through 11 seed) making it at least to the Elite Eight, if not further.

• Usually it's dangerous to pick every team in the bracket from a certain league, such as the Big East or the Atlantic Coast. Nobody can argue that the Big East is the deepest conference, but being the fifth or sixth team from those famous leagues doesn't guarantee anything. In fact, often it motivates an underdog opponent.

• The four No. 1 seeds almost certainly will be Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina and Kansas, no matter what happens in the conference tournaments this weekend. Kentucky looks like a lock to make the Final Four and probably go all the way. Of that group, the most vulnerable in my view will be Kansas, though Syracuse has a painful habit of exiting earlier than it should.

• Most likely, the No. 2 seeds will include, in some order, Duke, Ohio State, Michigan State and Missouri. To me, that's a big dropoff from the No. 1 group. After the way Duke crumbled at home last weekend against Carolina, you have to wonder about the Blue Devils.

• Who might become the Butler of 2012? It's always a crapshoot, but my list of lesser-known teams worth considering (though it still depends on where they fall bracket-wise, such as away from Kentucky) looks like this: Virginia Commonwealth (which made the Final Four last year as well), Gonzaga, Murray State, Wichita State, Creighton, Belmont, Nevada-Las Vegas and New Mexico.

• Lastly, I've had good luck through the years looking for a third or fourth team from one of the power conferences, and putting that choice into the Elite Eight or Final Four. This year's candidates in that category would include Florida State, Baylor, Marquette, Georgetown, Michigan, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt. Again, though, a bad (or good) spot in the bracket can change the outlook for any team.

• Come back to csindy.com late Sunday afternoon, and we'll condense this down to specifics, including best shots for early upsets.

For now, though, just enjoy the conference tournaments. They're often as entertaining as March Madness itself.



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