By: Jeff Doke news services

As society in general strives to return to some type of normalcy, the sports world does the same.

We’ve finished an NFL season many people never thought would happen (or never hoped would happen if you’re a Jags fan), the MLB season has started (now with non-cardboard fans!), and the return of what was the first major casualty of the 2020 COVID shutdown – the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, March Madness is back (offer may not be valid in parts of Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina, see your respective alumni association for details).

Full disclosure; I don’t really care for college basketball, but I love March Madness.

Like Mike Golic, back when ESPN Radio had a listenable morning show, I fill out one “sheet of integrity” every year. One sheet only, and I do zero research. None whatsoever.

In fact, every year it surprises me when the tournament even begins.

I wait to hear from that one friend. I think we all have that one friend that has always been the basketball guru of your social circle.

Maybe it’s you in yours, but in mine, it’s the father of two softball obsessed girls and current owner of three out of the last four championships in our fantasy football league.

A fraternity brother I shall refer to as “Hola Pablo.” Every year he sends out the invitations to the bracket pool, and every year I make my selections as blind as an ACC referee working an Alabama championship game.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have a strategy. I have several actually, and they all came into play in this year’s brackets.

1.Find a team that’s just fun to say. That’s why I always go a little farther than I should with Gonzaga. Accentuate the middle syllable. Gon-ZAAAAAG-uh. Fun! I picked them to win it all this year.

2.Be a homer, but not too much of a homer. As a Dawg, this one’s tough.

Kind of hard to root for the home team when they’ve only made the tourney 12 times total.

So instead, I went big on SEC teams, having Arkansas, Alabama, and LSU all winning their first round at least.

Not Tennessee, though. Never pick the Vols to win anything. Or Florida for that matter. I have standards.

3.If it reminds you of an ex or makes you nostalgic for the ‘80s, pick ‘em. Kansas? Check. UNC & Georgetown? Well, there’s no Duke this year, so go for it. Oral Roberts? Weird flex, but okay…

4.Remember the Dirty Dozens. I read somewhere years ago that there’s always at least one 12 seed that beats the 5 seed. It’s happened every year since UCLA was still buying championships, so I always go heavy on the 12s. Three out of four this year.

5.If God is on their side, you should be on their side. If there’s a “Saint” or “Holy” or “Christian” in their school name, or if they have an adorable nun that suspiciously knows a little too much about hoops without an assist from the almighty, you best hedge your bets.

Best not to prime yourself for awkward questions from St. Peter.

6.Avoid family squabbles. Yyyyeah, not this year. Remember Hola Pablo? He’s a Wolverine, his wife is a Seminole.

I had them going face to face in the Sweet 16, and I didn’t want to be the one to pick the Noles to make the Final Four…but I did, and hoped he didn’t notice. Which brings us to…

7.For the love of Pete, DON’T TALK SMACK. Unless of course you wind up winning the thing…which occasionally happens, broken clock being right twice a day & all that.

Not often though, so don’t go all big & bad in the comments unless you enjoy backpedaling like a South Georgia high school football coach caught on tape with a booster.

So how did I do this year? Not good. True, I did go 2-2 on the “12s over 5s” rule, I picked Oral Roberts to go just as far as they did & no further, and my national championship pick is still in the running, but I dropped a final four team in each of the first three rounds (Purdue, Illinois, FSU).

I’m in 6th place out of 7, and the best I can do is finish 4th.

Oh well, maybe next year. At least I have the MLB All Star game in Atlanta to look forward to…wait. Nevermind.

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