I have to admit that I rarely do well in NCAA Tournament pools.
In the years I manage to pick the champion, I've done so poorly in the opening rounds that by Monday my pool sheet has more dead spaces than the Giants' opening-day batting order.
Other times, my picks sail through the opening rounds, only to suffer a second-weekend demise more sudden than Eliot Spitzer's political career.
One of these years my luck will turn around. I'll see my champion emerge from the anonymity of a No. 3 seed after riding a No. 11 into the Elite Eight.
But it's going to take some strategy above and beyond the run-of-the-mill playing of the odds. Yes, I know a 16 seed never has won in the first round, that an at-large team with a losing conference record never lasts past the opening weekend, blah, blah, blah.
No, I'm talking about some out-of-the-box thinking, the kind that goes beyond the color of the uniform or whether my mascot would maul yours if both were turned loose in the wild. So here goes -- 17 tips guaranteed to help you win your office pool.
1. Never advance a team that relies on 3-point shooting when the game is scheduled to be played outdoors on a windy day. That rule also applies to contests played in stadiums during a tornado watch.
2. Beware of teams whose conference tournament championship game telecast was tape-delayed so ESPN could show a "Stump the Schwab" marathon.
3. When in doubt about a team's credentials, visit the school's official Web site and click on "notable alumni." If it lists more congressmen than NBA draft picks, it won't reach the Elite Eight.
4. If a team has more than three seniors on its roster, it obviously isn't doing its best to prepare 19-year-olds for the NBA draft, and can't be expected to last past the first weekend.
5. Any team running a Princeton-style offense might scrape out a victory in the first round, but won't make a run at the title. The track record is pretty secure on this one. Princeton hasn't reached the Final Four since 1965.
6. If a double-digit seed wins a first-round game, avoid calling it "this year's George Mason." This year's George Mason is George Mason.
7. Know your referees. If any man scheduled to officiate any game involving Memphis sports mutton chops, a jet-black ducktail hairstyle and likes to mimic karate moves in a sequin-studded white leather jumpsuit, back the Tigers.
8. Any team that had to move its big game this season to a local high school gym to accommodate more fans doesn't really belong in the NCAA Tournament.
9. Every year, a 12 seed beats a 5 seed in the first round, so take that into consideration when making your picks. OK, so it happens sometimes. But not last year. And you won't pick the right one anyway, so scratch that.
10. If a pep band from a school in the field of 65 has to hold an emergency bake sale to purchase the sheet music to the CBS College Basketball Theme Song, the team it supports will be on its way home before Saturday.
11. When a team's highlight package is a one-minute clip on YouTube, it's ready for a first-round exit.
12. Any school with an Italian head coach that hasn't been a dinner guest of Dick Vitale should be considered a long shot.
13. If a team's senior point guard is making his first trip on an airplane this week, his second trip -- the one back to campus -- is coming sooner than later.
14. Any coach who pulls out a tape measure to show his team that the arena's baskets are 10 feet off the floor knows he's in trouble.
15. If the team photo from your school's last NCAA Tournament appearance is in black and white, save your airfare.
16. Any team forced to play a regular season doubleheader with its women's team to boost attendance will have a tough first-round game.
17. If the men's team played the first game in that doubleheader, it shouldn't unpack its bags.
And if all else fails, here's a bonus tip to keep your pool sheet alive into the Final Four:
18. Ride the Bruins.