Your annual office pool and the NCAA Tournament have quite a bit in common. Just like the tournament has higher and lower seeds based on talent, your office has higher and lower expectations based on people's knowledge of college basketball.
The "No. 1 seeds" spend their winters dissecting teams' strengths and weaknesses in giddy anticipation of Selection Sunday and the opportunity to showcase what they've learned. The "No. 16 seeds" get to work on Thursday morning with an empty bracket and ask what a "UNLV" is. And it usually ends with some Valparaiso over in accounting who knows next to nothing about college basketball getting a higher score than the diehard fan who stays up until 1 a.m. every night watching West Coast Conference games on ESPN3.
That's March Madness. There are no guarantees. But here are a few facts and suggestions to keep in mind while maneuvering through this year's March minefield:
Picking the first week
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■ Duke and North Carolina don't lose in their backyard. The two are a combined 22-0 in first-week games played in the state of North Carolina since Duke lost to Providence in 1997. The Tar Heels are 17-0 since losing to Penn way back in 1979. It's probably safe to pencil them into the Sweet 16.
■ What makes the first week of the tournament fun is the upsets. And there will be upsets. Since 1985, there have been at least five winners seeded five or more spots lower than their opponent in every tournament but one (2007). There were eight last year.
■ Those upsets usually come in bunches. Since 1985, two or more double-digit seeds from the same region have advanced in every tournament but one (also 2007).
■ But don't go too crazy with your Cinderellas. Teams seeded 13-16 have won only 10 percent of their first-round games (42 of 416). Only six of those have won their second-round game. It's probably not worth sacrificing a 3 or 4 seed to try to find this year's Murray State.
Picking the second week
■ Since 2003, teams playing a Sweet 16 game in their home state are 8-2.
■ If you're so in love with a 12 seed that you just have to send them all the way to the second week, that's fine. But the madness needs to stop there. No. 12 seeds are 1-17 in Sweet 16 games since 1985 (including Cornell's loss last year to UK).
■ No. 5 seeds are a pitiful 7-31 in the Sweet 16 since 1985. But the seven that advanced went 6-1 in the Elite Eight. So if you have a 5 seed going that far, you might as well send them on to the Final Four.
■ In the Elite Eight, maybe it's best to just throw out the seeds. The higher-seeded teams have an even 20-20 record in Elite Eight games over the past five years.
Picking your Final Four
■ Since 1993, at least one school every year has snapped a Final Four drought of more than 10 years. So take a good look at teams like Pitt (last trip in 1941), Notre Dame (1978), San Diego State (never), Purdue (1980), Wisconsin (2000) and, yes, Kentucky (1998).
■ Don't be afraid to pick more than one team from the same conference. It's happened nine of the past 12 years.
■ That said, two teams from the same conference haven't met for the national title since Kansas beat Oklahoma in 1988.
■ Make sure you have at least one No. 1 seed. Since 1981, there's only been one Final Four without one (2006).
Picking your national champion
■ Think Ohio State is a stone-cold lock to win it all? Think again. Since the No. 1 overall seed was introduced in 2004, only one has gone all the way (Florida in 2007).
■ But nine of the past 12 national champions have been No. 1 seeds.
■ You can win your conference tournament. You can get knocked out early. But you apparently can't lose in the conference title game and then go on to win the national title. Kentucky, in 1996, was the last team to do it.
■ If you can't stomach Mike Krzyzewski, have to turn away from the TV at the sight of Rick Pitino or are sick of seeing Roy Williams cut down nets in April, don't pick Duke, Louisville or UNC to win it all. You won't have any fun, and that's what this time of year is all about.