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Brackets for dummies

Russ Smith's good looks are reason enough to push Louisville to the Final Four in your bracket if you choose to use columnist Dani Lazarus' March Attractiveness bracket-picking strategy.
Russ Smith's good looks are reason enough to push Louisville to the Final Four in your bracket if you choose to use columnist Dani Lazarus' March Attractiveness bracket-picking strategy.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The snow is melting, spring is around the corner—and 68 of the nation’s top college basketball teams are battling it out for the NCAA championship.

That’s right, it’s March Madness, where a lucky run in the tournament could catapult any team to greatness. Thursday and Friday, the first two full days of the tournament, are the best days of the year to watch sports on TV, featuring nearly 48 consecutive hours of basketball games. No matter where you are, or what time it is—whether in class, at Thursday night Devine's, or after that 8:45 a.m. Orgo test everyone seems to have Friday—you have no excuse not to watch the tournament.

And now, thanks to this handy guide, you have no excuse not to care about March Madness, either.

Let’s face it—we may attend a “basketball school,” but there are plenty of people here who don’t know the difference between a free throw and a foul shot (trick question—there is no difference). Thus, they don’t give a hoot that it’s March Madness. They haven’t been tracking the rise and fall of teams since October; didn’t spend spring break glued to their TV screens, yelling for Jabari Parker to “get more inside looks;" and, when Jabari finally dunked the ball, yelping along with Dickie V at what a “PTP-er” the “diaper dandy” truly is.

But you don’t have to have done any of that to be invested in this year's tournament. Come Thursday, it’s like the college basketball season is truly beginning. All you have to do to have an interest in March Madness is to have teams to root for, and the way you do that is by making a bracket. By pitting your bracket against other peoples', how your teams do on the court translates to how well you do in the competition, which means your teams could win you pride, joy and cold hard cash.

So yeah, you should care.

“But I’ve never made a bracket before!” you say. Well, now that can't be an excuse anymore because I’m going to show you how. In selecting the winners of matchups on your bracket, you could just pick the higher-seeded team to win each matchup—but then you would be boring. Also, each of the No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four a total of once in the history of the tournament, so that strategy has a proven track record of not working anyway.

So, in this guide, I’ve already done the hard part—I’ve picked your Final Fours for you. Using advanced, scientific formulas, I’ve come up with numerous categories for you to choose from that best fit your personality in filling out the most important section of your bracket. So, have fun, root for your teams, enjoy the greatest month of the year—and may the best bracket win.

The Astute Quartet: As attendees of the US News and World Report's No. 7 university in the nation, we’re all pretty smart. So naturally, we love to see other smart kids succeed, both inside and outside the classroom. Therefore, Duke, Stanford, Harvard and Wisconsin will represent all of us nerds in the most perspicacious tetralogy of teams in the nation. Plus, to toot Duke’s horn, both Harvard and Stanford’s coaches have Blue Devil connections—Tommy Amaker was an assistant coach for Coach K after playing for Krzyzewski's 1986 national runner-up team, and Johnny Dawkins was National Player of the Year during his senior season at Duke.

Cinderella Story: There’s no better feeling in the world than successfully being the person who predicts March Madness’ annual Cinderella, the typically lower-seeded team that makes it further in the tournament than originally predicted. Last year, my mom got it right. She employed a combination of the Astute Quartet and Cinderella Story strategies, picked Harvard to go all the way, and her bracket ended up not completely tanking since the Crimson made the Round of 32. This year, look for Mercer to potentially make a splash in the Midwest region—their big men have a chance of challenging the smaller-sized Blue Devils. Or maybe Oregon in the West—the Ducks are known for their streaks, and they won eight in a row before falling to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament finals. On the other side of Durham, N.C. Central comes in riding a 20-game winning streak. With a little magic, the Eagles could knock off Big 12 tournament champion Iowa State, setting up a matchup with North Carolina in the Round of 32 for a Sweet 16 bid. And for your fourth team, look to Dawkins to lead the Cardinal to Arlington.

Let Me Google That For You: There are certain schools that, every month of the year except for March, you have absolutely no idea what they are and where they’re located. So you can sound really knowledgeable when your Final Four consists of Stephen F. Austin, St. Joseph’s, Mercer and Creighton, and you can confidently say they’re in Texas, Philadelphia, Georgia and Nebraska, respectively, when everyone else is puzzled. (Yes, I needed to Google each of those—except for St. Joe's because I live there.)

March Attractiveness: Remember how I mentioned the “advanced, scientific formulas” I used to pick these Final Fours? Well, this category certainly required one, as I consulted Cosmopolitan Magazine’s Hottest Guys of March Madness 2013 to help pick the best-looking Final Four. If the player on Cosmo's list hasn't graduated and his team made the NCAA tournament this year, then his handsomeness will inevitably guide his team to the Final Four. Those fearless, gorgeous leaders are Louisville’s Russ Smith, Michigan State’s Keith Appling, Oklahoma State’s Christien Sager and New Mexico’s Hugh Greenwood. Even if you know nothing about basketball, at least you can root for these teams to watch these guys’ beautiful faces on TV longer, am I right ladies?

Repeat That, Please: I'm not making these up—these are real names appearing in this year's NCAA tournament field. UCLA will not Wanaah Bail from the tournament, especially during freshman forward Wanaah Bail’s first appearance in the Big Dance. In order for Coastal Carolina to become the first No. 16 seed to win the tournament, let alone win a single game, the Chanticleers will need six wins—only two more than the amount of names freshman guard Colton Ray-St. Cyr has. Is Je’lon Hornbeak an exotic bird or a sophomore guard on Oklahoma’s basketball team? And N.C. State has players named Beejay Anya, Cat Barber and Staats Battle—it looks like the Wolfpack are the team to beat in the All-Name Final Four.

Safety Schools: Sports Illustrated has Florida, Virginia, Louisville and Arizona in the Final Four. ESPN's Jay Bilas predicts Kansas, Wisconsin, Louisville and Michigan State. Any of those teams could reasonably make the Final Four—but picking them would be almost as boring as choosing all No. 1 seeds, right? Better go with one of the systems above instead.

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