No matter how clean a man claims to live, come March, he is likely a criminal. We are of course referring to participating in a March Madness office pool. Don’t worry about jail time though, office pools attract less attention from authorities than speeding cars, the other law everyone breaks. Just keep the pot under 5 figures and avoiding using company resources and time to carry out the betting, and you’ll be fine. Entering the pool is fun and it gives you a reason to care about all 64 games, but only winning can provide true satisfaction. No one knows how THE tournament will unfold (the bracket is not even announced until Selection Sunday) but we have compiled some tips to help improve your chances of cashing in on the Madness.

Choose carefully and play the odds:

Most tourney pools grant participants points for picking game winners, the amount increasing as the rounds advance. A first round winner might be worth 10 points while correctly predicting the National Champion earns you 160 points. Thus, in order to get the most points, you need to actually have the correct teams still alive in the later rounds. That much is obvious, but consider how this can affect your picks.

For example, lets say Kentucky plays Louisville in the second round, as Bracketologist Joe Lunardi predicts they might. Kentucky will be a huge favorite, but on a neutral court, you can expect the Cardinals to play them tough. Should you choose the upset? Most of your opponents will choose UK and so if they win, you will be at a huge disadvantage because the Wildcats could continue to rack up points with later victories while Louisville turns in its jerseys. However, if you choose UK and they do get upset, you will not be in that bad of a spot, as most of the pool will likely be feeling your pain. The point is, search for upsets that offer good value and minimize risk.

Give it to the hot shooter:

Understanding game intangibles is a delicate art to define (read: guess). As the ubiquitous cliché, goes, “a team wants to peak at the right time.” Ideally, after a season of working out the kinks, a school will be playing its best ball in March. This is not always the case, though. As you begin weighing teams against one another, consider if one squad inflated its record with cupcakes at the beginning of season and has looked tired down the stretch. Or perhaps Texas finally figures out the correct starting lineup and pulls things together come tourney time. Momentum, like a drunk girl’s emotion, is difficult to judge or explain, but worth paying attention to in these final weeks before the big dance.

Scout the local talent:

Face it, there is a competitive difference for teams playing in the Big East compared to the Pac-10. Sure Villanova has 5 losses, but 4 of them came from Syracuse, Georgetown, Connecticut and Pittsburgh. Teams playing in these stacked conferences face tough games night in and night out, and invariably they experience some hard losses. Does this rough schedule translate to tournament wins? Not necessarily, but consider that the last 9 champions have come from 4 conferences, ACC, Big East, Big 12 and SEC. Making it through these conferences all season prepares a team for the emotion packed March games. Look for the Big East and Big 12 to be well represented at the end of the month.

Compare schedules:

The great thing about the NCAA Basketball tournament is that it pairs teams that traditionally do not play each other to determine who is actually the best. Are you listening college football? This is also why predicting individual match-ups can be so difficult, especially when teams have no history against one another. To discover which squad has the upper hand, compare how each team fared playing schools similar to its current opponent. This research allows you to pit each teams proven strengths and weaknesses against each other. For example, only two teams have beaten Syracuse this year, Louisville and Pittsburgh and each had to play aggressive, tough defense to do it. Similarly, Kansas has two losses thanks to OK State and Tennessee. Each pulled the upset by utilizing key 3-point shooting. These type of facts may help may spot a bracket buster.

Rack up some frequent flyer miles:

We cannot think of a better way to make your bracket dreams a reality than by demoralizing the team you want to lose with obscene comments about their little sisters. Well, that might be overdoing it a bit, but why not make plans to attend the games in person? Wouldn’t the matches be more enjoyable if you were watching them in New Orleans, site of First and Second round games? Also, a surprising amount of fun can be had in Salt Lake City, host of the West Regional games. Can’t get tickets, then follow this method (editor’s note, this is a true story). Call the school of the team you would like to watch and tell them you are an alumnus looking for seats. Get their attention with a small donation, probably $500 or so, and they should put the tickets in the mail. If that doesn’t work, you can always try scalping. Either way, purchase a shirt of your team and you are sure to get an invite to the after party.

MadeMan makes no guarantees on the performance of your bracket, but at least you won’t be picking teams based on their mascot.