There are truly only a few sporting events that where even the most non-involved and clueless become true diehards. March Madness is one of those, but only when referring to “the whole grail” – the bracket pool. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t fill out a bracket (some more than one, or maybe even 2)! Even I, who hates, betting or competing will at least guess and fill one out! The real issue becomes, how do you put together a WINNING bracket?

Here are a few tips from a novice, but that I have understood to be true and quite helpful (better late than never since we’re heading into the sweet 16, but definitely will have you ahead of the game for next year!). Most people regardless of college attendance or not, most likely have a favorite team. They have probably followed them throughout their season and feel fairly confident they know the team’s stats. The reality is that more likely than not their favorite team is most likely not going to “win it all”. There are exceptions, the higher “your team” is seeded, the greater the likelihood for them to make a run at it.

To move your favorite a round or two beyond normal expectations is ok. Anything more than that and you are playing with fire. Every team has “their thing”, that’s why they’re in the dance at all and not in the NIT (Not In the Tournament). But certain “things”, like a strong rebounding margin is a sign of a team with the skills to make a run.

It’s easy and wrong to just compare teams’ records and make your picks based on that. Those wins and losses are very hard to compare if the level of opposition isn’t similar. You really have to do your homework and pore through stats to find a team with an edge. The only way to truly compare performance is to check out who’s been hotter.

All of the “automatic” qualifying teams from the middle or lower major conferences are going to be coming into the NCAA tournament via a winning streak due to the fact that they have won their league’s postseason tournament. This could have just been a fluke or they could’ve been on quite a roll. As for the 36 teams that join them as at-large bids, how have they faired? The teams that go the farthest are the ones playing their best basketball in February and March.

Health is a key factor at this time of the season, especially when it comes to teams who recently lost a star player or those who are just getting back someone who’s missed significant time due to injury.

Seeding is usually considered a factor, but as anyone who’s ever seen the effects of March madness knows, seeding doesn’t always matter. Upsets happen, although they are not the norm. Upsets are going to happen. It’s one of the most exciting parts of the tournament and what keeps it fresh year after year, knowing that in a one-and-done scenario anything can happen.

Location, location, location. Who you play is crucial, but where you play matters too. The NCAA tournament is played at 14 different sites, with 12 of the locales chosen for their geography. This way the tournament has sub-regionals and regionals located in the east, south, mid-west and west parts of the country. No team is allowed to play on its “official home court” (unless you consider Dayton, if it were to be placed in one of the “First Four” games that are annually held in the Flyers’ arena), but usually the highest-seeded teams will be placed into sub-regional “pods” that keep them relatively close to home.

Being No. 1 is great, but it really isn’t all that and a bag of chips!. No. 1 seeds have been knocked off in the second (now third) round 15 times since 1985.And only once, in 2008, have all four No. 1s advanced to the Final Four. There have only been six title games where No. 1 seeds played one another, the last being in 2008. And only three times (last in 2011), did no single No. 1 seed has made the final.

March madness is a great unifier. It brings folks from all walks of life and across the country together to watch “their teams” play basketball for the chance at the National Championship title. The chance to be called No.1 for a year, until the next time the madness strikes!