Is red your favorite color? Then you’ve got your Final Four teams: Wisconsin, Arizona, Louisville and Arkansas.
Partial to unique nicknames? Go with the St. Mary’s Gaels, Wichita State Shockers and pair of Gamecocks, South Carolina and Jacksonville State.
Or select the teams you believe will win the games, but a word of caution, that rarely works.
Still, we try. Online bracket challenges, office pools and family fun posted by refrigerator magnets are the casual side of one of sports’ top betting events.
The American Gaming Association estimated that 70 million wagered $9.2 billion on the 2016 NCAA Tournament, including offshore sites and illegal bookies.
Like last year, the AGA projects about 3 percent of the wagers will be placed legally, through Nevada sports books.
Chances are you’re not traveling to Las Vegas or Reno this week. You just want to fill out a bracket based on colors, mascots or best guesses based on a few tips like:
▪ Take all four No. 1 seeds, at least for the first game. Top seeds have never lost an opening game, taking a 128-0 record into this year’s tournament.
Strongly consider pushing those top seeds — Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina and Gonzaga — through to the Sweet 16. The No. 1 seed’s record in those games is 115-13.
▪ As for your champion, pick a school that’s won before. The last first-time winner was Florida in 2006, and the Gators repeated the next year. Among favorites, this would not favor such schools as Gonzaga, Baylor and Purdue.
▪ An interesting nugget uncovered by Jon Solomon at CBSSports.com: Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, no team has won the championship after failing to win a game in its conference tournament. Uh, oh, Kansas, Louisville, Butler and Florida. On the flip side, such teams will have fresher legs having not played throughout the weekend.
Also, beware of conference tournament upset winners. They tend to spend plenty of emotion and energy on the most recent surge. Michigan, one of the great postseason stories after its airplane to the Big Ten tournament slid off the runway and delayed its arrival by a day, fits this profile.
▪ Find an opening round survivor and pencil it in for more victories. In the first six years of the 68-team field, where multiple teams travel to Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday and Wednesday for the tournament appetizer, at least one has gone on to another victory in all of those years.
Last season, Wichita State won the “play-in” game and upset Arizona in the next round. In 2011, the first year of the opening round, VCU started in Dayton and finished in the Final Four. The four candidates this year are Providence, Southern California, Wake Forest and Kansas State. The Demon Deacons beat Louisville late in the season and the Wildcats knocked off Baylor.
▪ Pay attention to the Vegas lines. The selection committee poured over reams of information to reach its conclusion about seeding. But it’s a sports book’s business to know how the betting public will react and establish the lines. If you see a double-digit seed as a narrow underdog, strongly consider that upset pick.
A few lines to monitor: Middle Tennessee State vs. Minnesota, UNC Wilmington vs. Virginia and East Tennessee State vs. Florida.
▪ Upsets give the tournament its early flavor, but the big dogs eat deep into the tournament Seventh-seeded Connecticut in 2014 was the only champion seeded lower than third over the last 15 years. At least one No. 1 seed has reached the Final Four in all but three years since seeding started in 1979.
Could this be the only time since 2008, when Kansas won the championship that all four top seeds get through?
Not on my bracket, but my Final Four picks — Villanova and Kansas along with second seeds Kentucky and Arizona — aren’t far off.
But if uniform color is your thing, 12 of the last 13 champions had blue as their primary color.