By EMMETT MCCALL

It's March.

That means the Madness can't be too far away.

Everyone from the college basketball fanatic to the bingo-addict with an extra $5 in her purse knows the office pools are just a little over a week away.

Yes. It's that time of the year.

The time when just about every company in America from the mom and pop family owned business to the corporate giant with thousands of employees will have some type of office pool being circulated.

Of course I'm talking about the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. For sports junkies, there is no better time of the year. The tourney combines the anticipation of the Olympics, the gradual build-up of the World Cup, and the one-game excitement of the Super Bowl into a two-a-half week roller-coaster ride of emotion.

As Dick Vitale would say, "It's madness, baby."

The tournament is made all the more interesting because of something that is simply known as "The Bracket."

I don't know who first came up with the idea or when the bracket pool got its start, but the NCAA and its television partners will be forever indebted to that person.

Oh sure, the NCAA will tell you that it's against any kind of wagering on the tournament. It says all the right things and almost makes it sound believable … Haha.

But be serious. From the free internet pools that offer up to a million dollars for the "perfect bracket," to the $5 or $10 office pool, to the huge money Calcutta pools that in some cases divide up hundreds of thousands of dollars in winnings, the NCAA and CBS are thrilled.

Why? Because those pools keep you watching. Even if your team doesn't make the field of 68 (that just doesn't sound, right, does it?) or if it gets eliminated early, you keep watching. Your pool makes you care how 14th-seeded Vermont does against 3rd-seeded San Diego State (thanks to Joe Lunardi and his Bracketology for the example).

That why the television ratings are high and that's why CBS and Turner Broadcasting recently paid nearly $11 billion for the rights to televise the game for the next 14 years.

The NCAA owes a lot of the thanks for that huge deal to the original "Mr. Bracket Pool." Whoever and wherever he his, everyone who gets enjoyment out of his idea owes him some thanks as well.

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I will now offer some tournaments tips (don't ask how I did in the pools I played last year) for those playing this year … for amusement purposes only, of course.

Ÿ No matter how much you hate Duke, don't pick a #16 team to beat a #1 seed. Top seeds are 104-0 since the bracket was expanded to 64 teams. The closest any 16th seed has come to an upset was in 1990 when Murray State took Michigan State to overtime before eventually losing.

Ÿ If you're looking for upsets, look at #12 seeds. Since 2001, #12 seeds have won nearly as many times as they've lost to #5 seeds. During that span, #5 seeds hold a slim 21-19 advantage.

Ÿ If you're looking for a couple of teams that more than likely won't be #1 seeds, but still have a shot to make it to the title game, consider Notre Dame and Florida. Both teams are loaded with experience which is a huge plus at tourney time. The will get good seeds, but since they won't be #1s, they won't get as much play as other teams in their section of the bracket.

Ÿ Don't pick all #1 seeds to reach the Final Four. Since 1985, there has only been one year (in 2008) when that has happened.

Ÿ Pick BYU to be upset early in the tournament. The Cougars are enjoying a fine season and are/were in line to be a #1 seed. But earlier this week key starter Brandon Davies was dismissed from the team. I'm betting that no matter how spectacular Jimmer Fredette plays, BYU will be out early.

Ÿ Will there be a Butler this year? A team from outside of the Big 6 Conferences that can make a run to the Final Four? BYU and San Diego State will probably be among the top seeds, but I don't think either one makes the Sweet 16. Last year, Butler made its run to the title game as a #5 seed. This year, I think Xavier will have a similar seed. I like the Atlantic 10 Musketeers to make a run to at least the Sweet 16 if not the Elite 8.

Ÿ If all logic fails when trying to decide between teams, then pick the one with craziest nickname or the coolest uniforms. Because we all work with someone who doesn't know the difference between a team from the Big East Conference and the America East Conference and couldn't identify the free throw line from the three-point line, who was beating us after the first round of games last year.

Ÿ Finally, in case anyone was planning on cashing in on one of those million dollar bracket contests, the odds of filling out a perfect bracket are 9.2 quintillion to 1. Okay, I just didn't figure that out myself. I "Googled" it and that's what I found out. I'll have my daughters double check the math after school today.