Spring has sprung.
Everything that was dormant is now alive with hope.
That includes your NCAA college basketball office pool sheet.
Each year, you feel like your time has come.
You've studied and logged hours in front of the television, watching games, and listening to the experts give their well-conceived opinions.
But each year ends with some dufus in human resources taking home the title. My apologies if you work in HR, and in any way resemble a dufus.
Usually, this person has no idea about what is going on with basketball.
They think that a double dribble is what they get on their shirt or blouse after lunching on a bowl of soup.
Someone mentions March Madness, and they think it's a rare springtime paranoia disorder.
But rest easy this year my friends.
You've got the Baron of Bracketology on your side. That's right, me... OK, stop laughing.
Here are a few tips to help you beat the bozo in HR your office pool. And if you're in that HR dufus, prepare to repeat as champ, my friend.
When you're hot, you're hot.
Each year, teams carry hot streaks into the tourney that continue on into the Big Dance. Last season, runner-up Butler didn't lose a game in the new year until falling to Duke in the final. Champion Duke won 18 of its last 19 and gained momentum by winning the ACC Tournament.
This year, a number of teams enter the NCAA tournament on an influential runs.
Big 12 champ Kansas has won 14 out of 15. North Carolina has taken 14 out of 16, with only two losses to Duke during that stretch. Though they don't have as lengthy of winning streaks, Connecticut (Big East), Ohio State (Big Ten), Kentucky (SEC) and Washington (Pac 10) are all riding streaks after winning conference tournaments.
Looking for a darkhorse on a hot streak? Southeast No. 13 seed Belmont has won 12 in a row and 21 out of 22. East No. 15 Long Island has won 13 straight and 21 out of 22.
Guards will get you there.
If there's one position that has the biggest effect on deciding basketball games at tournament time, it's the guards.
They have the ball in their hands down the stretch and determine who gets the ball and where they get it in crunch time.
So who are the best guards in the field?
Duke's Nolan Smith is averaging 21.6 points per game. His backcourt mate Kyrie Irving, one of the most talented guards in America, may return from injury to play in the tournament. Isaiah Thomas is a familiar name, but this one plays for Washington. Notre Dame has Ben Hansbrough, another player with strong hoops lineage. UCONN's Kemba Walker is a one-man wrecking crew. BYU's Jimmer Fredette appears to be a shoo-in for National Player Of The Year honors.
The Secretary Strategy
There is little doubt who is the best group in the office when it comes to making picks in the NCAA pools - secretaries.
The have a highly-refined and time-honored method for making picks.
This method includes favorite team colors (pastels are preferred), team mascot (nothing to ferocious, please) and the best vacation spots (As in, honey when are you going to take me on that trip to Santa Barbara you've been promising me?).
It's always wise to pick a few teams based on this method. Carolina Blue is a lovely shape for the springtime. Temple's Owls and St. Peter's Peacocks are good mascot picks. Stay away from Richmond, they're the Spiders. Kinda scary.
equals good teams
It doesn't take a genius to realize (Hello, I did) that teams from good conferences are going to be battle-tested when March Madness arrives.The Big East, with 11 teams qualified, was far and away the best conference this year. Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Louisville and Connecticut all have what it takes to make Final Four runs and there may even be a few others from the Big East.The Big 12 boasts Kansas and Texas, and Kansas State was ranked in the top 5 in the nation early in the year. The Big Ten and ACC are also traditionally strong and have good representatives this season.
The old 12 over the 5
Each and every year, there are major upsets in the first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The key is selecting the right ones. Traditionally, at least one, and often two No. 12 seeds upset No. 5 seeds.
No. 12 Memphis is a decent bet to upend No. 5 Arizona in the West. In the Southwest, Richmond will have a chance at knocking off No. 5 Vanderbilt.
Looking for a couple more upset specials? Florida State knocked off Duke earlier in the season and could take down Texas A&M in the Southwest. Southeast No. 4 seed Wisconsin struggles to score and could fall to No. 13 Belmont in the opening round.
This might be another no-brainer, but you have to get what you can take from a sportswriter with minimal brainpower.
The teams that have experience winning big games in the tournament always do well.
Let's start with defending champion Duke. Then there is Kansas State, which got edged out in the Elite 8 by eventual finalist Butler. Syracuse also fell victim to Butler and its Cinderella run last season.
UConn and Michigan State are just two years removed from Final Four berths, but don't either to return. The Spartans were there last season as well. Pittsburgh and Louisville were Elite 8 teams in 2009 and may be better bets to go deep this season.
My Final Four
Mark these down as your Final Four teams and you might have a chance to take the title. Syracuse will take the East, Duke in the West, Kansas in the Southwest and Kansas State in the Southeast.
Good luck to all and let the Madness begin.
Chris Bieri is the sports editor at the Minot Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.