9 questions about the NCAA Tournament bracket you were too embarrassed to ask

Are you confused and stressed by the NCAA Tournament? Here are a handful of basic tips and tricks to match your most basic questions about filling out a bracket. We promise not to tell your friends!

SB Nation 2014 NCAA March Madness Coverage

(1) Someone at work asked me if I’m filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket. What the heck is an NCAA Tournament bracket?

Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky): Only America’s finest sporting event. There’s 67 games crammed into different 10 days, upsets, buzzer-beaters, screaming fans and emotional players. I’m surprised you haven’t heard!

Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman): College basketball is a sport where teams spend five months deciding which teams are good, and then we throw 68 of them in a ring with knives and if they lose a single game they die. It’s a really stupid idea, but fun things happen.

Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle): A bracket is a pair of marks used to enclose words so as to separate them from the context. How that pertains to the NCAA I haven’t the faintest idea. I think someone at work might be pulling your leg.

(2) Oh, right. Well I have not watched all the teams nor formed opinions. So … which teams could actually win?

Ricky: Florida is the favorite. The Gators haven’t lost since Dec. 2 and have four seniors in the starting lineup. Arizona, Kansas and the defending champion Louisville will be popular picks to cuts down the nets in Dallas, as well.

Rodger: Florida ended the season as the No. 1 team, so they’re the No. 1 team. Wichita State hasn’t lost a game all season long, but they didn’t play many good teams, so people are poo-pooing their chances of winning. The other No. 1 seeds — the teams that would play the easiest teams on the way to winning — are Virginia and Arizona.

Mike: Florida is the favorite of most. The Gators haven’t lost since before Christmas and are the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. A pair of No. 4 seeds — Louisville and Michigan State — are also generating a significant amount of attention for their late season runs. You can’t go wrong with picking Arizona, Virginia or Wichita State either, as they are the the tournament’s three other No. 1 seeds.

(3) Cool, but I also want to pick a few opening-round upset so I can tell people I told them so. What are some realistic options to make me look smart?

Ricky: You know there’s going to be plenty of upsets, the trick is finding the right ones to pick without ruining your entire bracket. You might not be able to name what state Mercer and Stephen F. Austin are from without looking it up, but that won’t stop lots of folks for latching on to them as a sleeper. N.C. State and Tennessee can be sleepers as well if they win their play-in game.

Rodger: I’m writing five posts about this! Five! And now I have to explain this to you! BS. (Anyway: North Dakota State, North Carolina Central, Manhattan, New Mexico State, and Stephen F. Austin are my five upset picks, of which I expect about one to happen.)

Mike: Stephen F. Austin is your best bet. The Lumberjacks (yes, Lumberjacks!) have won 28 straight games and haven’t tasted defeat since all the way back on Nov. 23. Their opening game against fifth-seeded VCU seems to be a winnable game. If you want to go even bigger, look at MAC champion Western Michigan, a veteran-laden 14 seed that is facing a Syracuse team that has lost more than it’s won over the past three weeks.

(4) The 12-5 upset rule. I should know about that, right?

Ricky: Always. There are four great 12-5 matchups this year, headlined by Harvard vs. Cincinnati. You should pick the No. 12 seed in at least one of these games every year, just because.

Rodger: If your bracket pool awards points for picking upsets — it probably does — the 5-12 line is the place to look. A lot of upsets happen in 5-12 games, but merely the fact that they often happen has little to no bearing on this year. What does have a bearing is that each game is winnable: Harvard can beat Cincinnati, NDSU can beat Oklahoma, NC State or Xavier can beat St. Louis, and Stephen F. Austin can beat VCU. Ken Pomeroy’s numbers gives each individual upset anywhere from a 46 to a 27 percent chance of happening, so, considering there are four such games, odds are at least one 12 seed will win.

Mike: At least one 12 seed beats a 5 seed pretty much every year. That’s the rule. I’m not sure what else you want from me.

(5) Wait, how many brackets can I fill out anyway? Like, what is socially acceptable?

Ricky: I am a one bracket person, because there’s no honor in anything else. Hedging your bets across multiple pools goes against the very spirit of the tournament.

Rodger: I think filling out different brackets in different pools is acceptable and fine if you want to enhance your chances of a good thing happening to you. It also allows you to follow your heart — last year I had one bracket where all four teams in the Final Four were from the Big Ten — and your brain. I also had, you know, a normal one.

However, filling out two brackets in the same pool just makes you a jerk with too much disposable income and I hate you.

Mike: As many as your heart desires. I would recommend having one official bracket (I like to call is the "wife bracket," but you’re free to use any name you choose) and then entering as many online bracket contests as possible to better your chances of winning millions and being able to put a moat in front of your house.

(6) I’ve heard brackets are won by people who know nothing about sports picking based on uniform color or cuter mascots. What is the dumbest possible tie-breaker I should use?

Ricky: Alphabetical order, mostly because we want someone to pick Albany over Florida (should they beat Mt. St. Mary’s).

Rodger: I’m doing a mascot bracket (based on who would win a mascot death fight) and a name bracket (based on which player on which team has the best name) this year. Stay woke.

Mike: Which team you actually think will win the game is always the dumbest tiebreaker you can utilize at this point in the season. If that doesn’t work for you, use a small child or animal to pick. It can be done. Trust me.

(7) I hate Duke. Just making sure I can safely pick against Duke? I really hate Duke.

Ricky: I did pick against Duke! This is actually a pretty cool Duke team by Duke standards — who wouldn’t want to watch Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood — but they’re weak defensively up front. If they aren’t hitting mad threes, Duke will be susceptible to an upset.

Rodger: Personally, I like to hedge my bets by picking Duke — if they win, your bracket is in good shape, if they lose, HAHAHAHA DUEK LOOLLOLOLLL. Duke has been susceptible to iffy losses all year, but they are still a v. good basketball team. Don’t expect them to go out early.

Mike: Hate is a strong word, man. You should pick Duke to win at least one game to apologize. Also because they’re a three seed who should have no trouble beating Mercer in the round of 64.

(8) What will my Final Four say about me? I want the coolest Final Four. One that says I am smart and good, and also that I hate Duke. What is that Final Four?

Ricky: Parity has reigned on college basketball this year, so don’t be surprised if the Final Four doesn’t go chalk. This year really feels wide open. With that being said, I’ll go with Florida, Iowa State, Arizona and Louisville.

Rodger: A "cool" Final Four doesn’t just have top seeds — it mixes in a surprise pick, someone with a 5 or 6 next to their name, or even lower! A "cool" Final Four is almost certainly going to be wrong.

Mike: Throw a six seed in there — but NOT UMass. If anybody tries to call you out just say you’ve been watching religiously since November and think North Carolina/Ohio State/Baylor has the talent for a deep run. Keep it simpler with your other three, though.

(9) OK, I skipped to the end. Can I just see a picture of the bracket you filled out? I want a perfect bracket to show my friends.

Ricky: Sure.

Rodger: No, jerk.

Mike: Bring me the complete series of The Torkelsons and I’ll consider it.

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