Bleach's billion-dollar bracket/Michael Bleach

Normally in the View From the Bleachers slot, I’d like to think no one takes themselves too seriously. An idea is thrown out, defended, some tongue-in-cheek comments are made, a bad joke or two cracked like a morning egg, and everybody moves on with their day.

It is typically sports columnist 101, rinse and repeat.

But not today.

Today, I pen the most important column of the year.

Today, I require your full attention.

Because today, I tell you how to win your NCAA Tournament office pool.

(Cue the gasp).

In two days time, mothers will pit against fathers. Brothers against sisters. Accountants against sales representatives. Friends against that guy Steve who nobody knows but seems to win every other year. Seriously, who is Steve? The Madness is upon us.

You may have convinced yourself that an NCAA Tournament bracket is a crap shoot. It’s a single-elimination, six round tournament, with teams like Florida Gulf Coast and Davidson coming to wreck your South Region every year. So you roll the dice, pick the team with the best mascot – Wichita State Shockers – and cross your fingers before screaming at the unheralded sophomore from San Diego State.

But that is a sucker’s approach.

Follow these steps, and you will shorten your odds considerably. Follow these steps, and you shall achieve bracket immortality.

(Money back not guaranteed).

1. Picking the champ.

Louisville, Florida, Wichita State or Villanova.

That’s it. Those are your choices.

Since 2003, there has been one clear link between every national champion. Those who walked away with the scissors and nets in hand ranked in the top 20 in defensive AND offensive efficiency as measured by statistics guru Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com). There has been no exception to this rule since Pomeroy started his website in 2003. Always top-20, and usually top-10.

And this year, that leaves the Cardinals, Gators, Shockers and Wildcats. Gone are Arizona (No. 35 offense), Virginia (No. 25 offense), Duke (No. 102 defense) and Kansas (No. 45 defense). Do not tab Creighton, Wisconsin or Syracuse.

Don’t hate me. Hate math.

2. Be wary of superstar freshmen.

Carmello Anthony’s Syracuse and Anthony Davis’ Kentucky have warped everyone’s minds when it comes to picking freshman led teams for a deep tourney run.

Do not be fooled. Some old man clichs still ring true. And freshmen-based squads – John Calipari excepted because he is a warlock created by Rivals.com – often flame out earlier than expected come tourney time.

Kevin Durant and Texas lost in the second round. Austin Rivers and Duke lost to freaking Lehigh. O.J. Mayo, Michael Beasley, Kyrie Erving – the list goes on for freshman teams who failed to meet expectations. Heck, even Lebron never won an NCAA Tournament game.

So for this year’s bracket, take a hard look at Kansas (Andrew Wiggins) and Duke (Jabari Parker). Talented though they are, an early flame out would be par for the course.

3. Don’t back North Carolina.

Because then you would have to root for Roy Williams’ whiney face. And that is never fun.

Heck, to be safe, avoid Syracuse and Jim Boeheim too.

4. The 12-seed upset.

Bracket veterans know well of this bizarre phenomena.

In 23 of the last 25 tournaments, at least one 12-seed upset a five. Last season, three 12-seeds advanced to the Sweet 16.

But it’s rarely the 12-seed itself that matters. It’s the ineffectiveness of the favored school. Look for obvious weaknesses or struggles down the stretch when you are weighing which upset (or upsets) to go with in these matchups.

St. Louis, which lost four of its last five games to close the regular season, looks particularly vulnerable.

Perhaps less well known, a 13-seed has won a game in each of the last 16 tournaments. Predicting who the next La Salle is will be tricky, but keep a careful eye on which four-seeds you are backing.

5. Balance matters.

If there were a graveyard for clichs, I’d be digging the “defense wins championships” hole as we speak. Right next to “baseball is 90 percent pitching.”

Defense does win championships. But so does offense. Namely, scoring more points than your opponent usually wins the game. Usually.

Going back to Ken Pomeroy, teams that reach the Elite Eight and beyond have an average of a top-20 rating in offense AND defense (hat-tip to Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn for the number crunch). That rating is actually slightly better for offense than defense.

So throw out the old clichs, and look for a team that can win in a variety of ways. You need it all to survive the madness that is March.

6. Skip work Thursday.

This is the best couple weeks of the year. Enjoy it. And send me a 10 percent cut of all illegal winnings.