How to fill out your 2012 NCAA tournament bracket

Before you fill out your bracket for Yahoo! Sports' Tourney Pick'Em, read The Dagger's tips on how to win your NCAA tournament pool.

Don't pick more than two No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four

Three No. 1 seeds advancing to the Final Four is rare. That's happened four times in the 27-year history of the modern NCAA tournament. And forget about having all four No. 1s go that far; 2008 was the first and last time that feat was accomplished. The numbers say your best bet is to put two No. 1 seeds in the Final Four and fill out the other half with a No. 3 seed and Butler. And, yes, we're aware Butler isn't in the tournament this year. That only slightly hinders their chances of advancing to a third-straight Final Four.

Don't pick crazy upsets, particularly late in the tournament

No NCAA pool was ever won on the first weekend, but plenty have been lost, mainly by people who thought it was a good idea to pick against a tourney favorite in the round of 32. Smaller pools tend to be won by those who play it relatively safe. Granted, defying the odds and successfully picking Creighton over North Carolina will be a bracket story you can tell your grandkids, who will then beat you in an NCAA tournament pool because you're the kind of person who picks Creighton over North Carolina.

[ Related: NCAA tournament bracket | Print it | Play Tourney Pick'em ]

Ignore seeding in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game

The lower seed is 57-51 overall in those matchups.

Beware of trendy picks

You know what happens when you go all-in on trends? You try to catch up and then -- boom -- suddenly you're stuck with a closet full of trucker hats. Since everyone else is bound to hear the same "hot tips" that you do, try and go the other way. Don't let Missouri or Long Beach State be your skinny jeans.

Defy conventional wisdom

This goes hand-in-hand with "beware of trendy picks." Remember last year when everyone thought UConn wouldn't have the legs for the tournament because of the team's five wins in five nights at the Big East tournament? Or the year before when Duke was getting overlooked because of the team's recent lack of March success? Treat your bracket like the stock market: Find undervalued teams and ride them to greatness. For this tournament, that means jumping on the stalled jalopy that is the Ohio State bandwagon.

Don't "show me" the Irish

In Notre Dame's past 10 tournament appearances, the Fighting Irish have advanced to the second weekend just once. That's good news for fans of Xavier and Duke.

Do learn to stop worrying and pick the Blue Devils

Since Coach K led Duke to his first Final Four, he and the Blue Devils have participated in 25 NCAA tournaments. His team has played on the second weekend in 20 of those. It may not feel good to do it and you may not be able to look at yourself in the mirror for a few days, but picking Duke to go to the Sweet 16 is always a smart move.

Pick the highest of your Final Four seeds to win it all

The team with the best (or tied for the best) seed of all Final Four competitors has won the title in five straight seasons and 10 of the past 13.

Don't pick schools named after people (unless it's the university named for Washington Duke)

There have been a total of 104 Final Four teams since 1986. Of them, 86 were schools named after a state (i.e., Connecticut, Kentucky, Virginia Commonwealth, Maryland) or a city (i.e., Louisville, Memphis, Syracuse). The recent successes of Butler and George Mason notwithstanding, schools named after people tend to watch the Final Four on television. Sorry: Baylor, Vanderbilt, Brigham Young and Lamar.

[ Pat Forde: Breakdown of the entire NCAA tournament field ]

Location, location, location

If you live in Chapel Hill, N.C., don't pick North Carolina to win the whole thing. Avoid Kentucky if you live in the Bluegrass State. And if you live close enough to Canada that you pepper your conversation with "eh" and "aboot," stay away from Syracuse. Since people tend to pick what they know, pools in Chapel Hill will be filled with people picking the Tar Heels, just like ones in Lexington will have a decided Wildcat flavor. Go against the grain. (But not too much: You don't want to be that person in Missouri who picks Kansas to win it all. They may never let you back in the state.)

If you're not the superstitious type, pick against your favorite team

If they win, you're too happy to care about a busted bracket. If they lose, the cool touch of cash salves most wounds. Except paper cuts.

Make difficult picks using the "mascot fight" theory

Two of the hardest games to pick in last year's first round were UCLA-Michigan State and Vanderbilt-Richmond. They were veritable toss-ups. But looking at these games in retrospect, they were all too easy to pick. Bruins vs. Spartans? Hmm, a vicious bear or a person who shuns the conveniences of modern living? I saw "Grizzly Man." I know how that story ends. And Commodores vs. Spiders? Matthew Perry was pretty good on "Friends," but one bite from a black widow and Joey would have needed to find a new roommate.

This could be helpful in a few of this year's tough first-round picks:

Long Beach State 49ers over New Mexico Lobos -- Joe Montana always shines in big games, particularly when said games are played against an inept sheriff.

St. Mary's Gaels over Purdue Boilermakers -- No Scotsman worth his salt could be felled by a whiskey-beer combo.

[ NCAA tournament by regions: South | West | East | Midwest ]

Misdirect the competition

Option No. 1: Spend the next three days at your office talking about how you've dedicated yourself to studying college basketball and feel that this is the year you win it all. Then, conspicuously leave fake brackets on your desk with Final Fours that include St. Bonaventure and Virginia.

Option No. 2: Subliminally drop the names of low-seeded teams into conversations with fellow poolers in hopes that this causes subconscious bracket selecting. For instance: "Yeah, my buddy named Lamar Montana moved from Norfolk to Detroit last week. Iona truck was going to help him move but the trip was too Long. 'Beaches' is my favorite movie. I'm a very Loyola Bette Middler fan."

After a first-round loss, never say, "Oh, I was almost going to pick them!"

Of course you were almost going to pick them, there are only two teams playing! The fundamental nature of probability dictates that you were forced to consider selecting the game's eventual loser. That's like flipping a coin, getting it wrong and saying, "man, I almost picked heads."

Nobody knows what will happen over the next three weeks, so don't ask

It sounds like a cliche, but the office pool always seems to be won by the person who believes Temple is a place of worship and thinks of fried chicken when you mention Kentucky. Knowing about college basketball doesn't make you better at filling out your brackets, all it does is make you feel worse about losing to the guy who constantly brags about not owning a television. All the so-called experts know what they're talking about, but they have no idea who's going to win the 63 games that are involved in your NCAA tournament pool.

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