March Madness is here: Everyone in the pool!

It’s mid-March, let the Madness begin. But before the NCAA Tournament tips off, lets get on the record with our picks and fill out a bracket.

Notice I said “A” bracket. You know the guy who brags about how accurate his picks were and then you discover he’s put five different brackets in his pool. Puh-leez!

And then there’s the guy who leads the pool because they picked all the higher seeds. C’mon man, a trained monkey can learn to count if you feed it enough cookies.

I just watched four “experts” on ESPN reveal their brackets, and three of them had all No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. And I could swear I saw cookie crumbs on their lips.

Of course you have to favor the highers seeds, but the key is to pick the “right” upsets. If I knew which ones they are I wouldn’t be sharing, but you can find some favorable matchups and meaningful trends.

For starters, eight of the champions crowned in the 2000s were coming off conference tournament titles. That list includes 2011 champion UConn, which won five Big East Tournament games in five days before running the table in the NCAAs.

Also consider conference RPI. The majority of non-conference games took place back in December, so teams have played almost exclusively against teams in their league for the past 2 1/2 months. And be sure to check out teams’ road records and guard play.

But the biggest rule of all, go with you gut. Fill out one sheet and go with your first instinct, like you’re taking the SAT. You won’t always be right, but you don’t want to be the guy saying “Oh, I ALMOST picked that one.”

With that said, here are my Final Four picks:

* EAST: Everyone and his granny are going with top-seeded Syracuse, and those who don’t will likely picks No. 2 Ohio State. But there are a couple of sleepers that should make a run – No. 3 Florida State, which just defeated North Carolina in the ACC Tournament, and No. 5 Vanderbilt, which knocked off Kentucky in the SEC Tournament. I like both to make the Sweet 16, although Vandy has a tougher draw, but I’ll take Florida State in my Final Four.

* SOUTH: I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but how do you not pick Kentucky? The only knock on the Wildcats is their youth, but they happen to have the best young players in the country and this group seems more mature than the others John Calipari has recruited. Plus they have a relatively easy path to the Final Four with No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Baylor coming off bad losses in their conference tournament. Kentucky NEVER plays a road game, and the Blue Nation is going to the Final Four this year.

* WEST: Top-seeded Michigan State looked impressive in winning the Big Ten Tournament, but it’s not even the best “M” in the bracket. No. 2 Missouri, No. 3 Marquette, No. 6 Murray State and No. 8 Memphis stands between the Spartans and the Final Four, not to mention No. 4 Louisville, which I’m taking to the Elite 8. But I’m riding Missouri to the Final Four based on its overlooked Big 12 Tournament title and impressive guard play.

* MIDWEST: Here’s another tip to help you score some points in your bracket. Because there are so many Tar Heel fans in every pool, you can count on 95 percent of your pool picking North Carolina to reach the Final Four. Why not take a chance and pick another team, like No. 2 Kansas or No. 3 Georgetown? I’m digging even deeper with an unheralded Temple team that may have the best guard play in the country besides Missouri. Give me the Owls in My Final Four.

There you have it – my Final Four of No. 1 Kentucky, No. 2 Missouri, No. 3 Florida State and No. 5 Temple. I’ll take Kentucky over Mizzou in a future SEC rivalry, the Seminoles over the Owls, and then the Wildcats to cut down the nets while CBS plays that tired old “One Shining Moment” song.

And on that magical night, I’ll be probably the guy at the bottom of the pool who everyone else is laughing at.

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