The NCAA Tournament has become a time for would-be sportsbooks and ESPN analysts to flex their oddsmaking, 2-3 zone philosophising muscles and prove who is the king of the virtual court.
But with the brackets -- that magical piece of paper upon which we place our money, and our hopes of earning the title of "college basketball expert" -- comes a horrible truth.
You don't know who is going to win. You can't know. If you want odds, they highly favor you placing your bracket in a shredder than a frame.
At the end of the week, when you've read every college basketball publication, watched hours and hours of analysis and all the games you TiVo'd during the winter, your only logical course of action when you put pencil to bracket is to follow the Mike Hargrove rule and play the percentages.
You remember. Hargrove would warm up a mediocre lefty like Al Morman or Tom Martin to face Ken Griffey Jr. when he had Mike Jackson loose in the 'pen with a 2.21 ERA. Inevitably, the bullpen door would swing open, out would come the rag-armed southpaw, and you'd grind your teeth.
But Hargrove played the percentages for a very important reason: The stats backed him up. Even if Griffey took said lefty deep, no one could argue the logic of a lefty-lefty matchup.
So let's use some logic when it comes to "Bracketology." Here are eight simple rules to remember as the tourney commences on Thursday:
Rule No. 1: The odds of your bracket being garbage by Sunday night are pretty good. The odds of your bracket being garbage a week from Sunday are excellent. Take failure with a light heart, because this truly is the toughest sporting event to handicap.
Rule No. 2: You don't know who this year's George Mason is going to be, because there isn't going to be a George Mason this year.
Rule No. 3: Do you hate North Carolina? How about UCLA or Florida? Tough noogies. They're going far this year, and just about every other year, because they are North Carolina, UCLA and Florida. They had better be going far in your brackets.
Rule No. 4: Playing the traditional favorites is the smartest thing you can do. Why? Because even if a George Mason does come along, everyone else's brackets are going to be wrecked right along with yours. The worst thing that could happen is if you try to pick a sleeper, fail miserably, and watch as the co-worker who picked Kansas walks off with the prize money.
Rule No. 5: When in doubt, pick the team with the size and rebounding. There are a lot of shrimp teams in this tourney, and most of them are going to be back in their dorm rooms by the Elite Eight.
Rule No. 6: At some point, your girlfriend, wife or mother will pick Florida because she thinks the Gator mascot is cute. You'll laugh and laugh, and think her selection method is so adorable. Until they play the game, and and she's right. And you, Mr. Crack Scout, will be wrong.
Rule No. 7: Go with your first premonition. If that little voice in your head is telling you to pick Georgetown, don't question it. Unless that little voice happens to be Dick Vitale, in which case you'll probably need to be committed to a mental institution anyway.
Rule No. 8: If you win your NCAA pool, dance all over the shattered egos of your co-workers while you can. Because, come fantasy football time, it's on.
That is all. Now get out there and, remember, it's not whether you win or lose. It's whether you can take your co-workers' money.