In this year’s NCAA pool, time to go against your better judgment

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Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hits the game-winner against North Carolina in the championship game of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Both teams are No. 1 seeds this year. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

One of the best parts of my job is that I’m able to fill out brackets for my family’s NCAA tournament pool while getting paid for it.

Wichita State will beat Dayton in the first round. Boom. That choice, made on company time, will be part of my next Sun-Times paycheck. Next, the 10th-seeded Shockers will upset second-seeded Kentucky to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. There’s some more walking-around money. And so on.

Figure in the car-mileage reimbursement for the ride to the lavish, expense-account lunch that feeds my secret (and also fictitious) circle of hoops sources, and you’re talking additional cash for me. Kidding!

I do love the idea that, while I’m pondering my picks in the name of professional duty, you’re at the office, surreptitiously writing in Michigan State to beat Miami, hoping against all hope that your boss won’t notice, which is a huge mistake because Michigan State is going to lose.

I’m not trying to rub it in. It just comes naturally. But the larger point is that you should follow my lead in picking teams in the tournament. I have won my family’s pool many times, though there was that one year when my mother-in-law, who didn’t know a Duke from an Oregon Duck, came out on top, leaving me with self-esteem issues and her with delusions of grandeur. I crushed her in the pool the next year, God rest her soul.

Now I am a giving sort, so I’d like to share some of my wisdom with you. Just don’t show it to any of my family members. They think I’m an insurance claims adjuster!

No 12th-seeded team will upset a fifth-seeded team in the first round this year. Only four times in the last 32 seasons has there not been an upset in this group. What I’m suggesting here certainly is brazen, but you must know that every one of my waking moments is devoted to your best interest. Making my suggestion more difficult to swallow is that all four No. 12 seeds — UNC Wilmington, Princeton, Nevada and Middle Tennessee State — are good and dangerous.

But tournament pools are not always about picking the right team for the right reason. Sometimes it’s better to go against logic. Trust me on this: Everybody in your pool is going to pick a No. 12 to upset a No. 5. Do you know what that means? That it isn’t an upset. If you’re looking for a strategic advantage, there isn’t one in doing what everybody else is doing.

This is the time for counterintuition. The Big Ten hasn’t been good this year. But if you’re looking to get some separation from your competitors, you might want to pick more Big Ten teams in the first round than logic would dictate you should. Actually, logic is shaking you by the lapels, slapping your face and telling you to snap out of it.

Lots of people are going to pick 12th-seeded Middle Tennessee over fifth-seeded Minnesota because the Blue Raiders stunned second-seeded Michigan State in the tournament last year, because they have a good player named Giddy Potts and because Minnesota, located somewhere where it’s dark, has very plain maroon-and-gold uniforms.

Pick the Golden Gophers, who have a tad less recent tournament experience than Middle Tennessee. Just do it. And give serious consideration to Maryland, a No. 6 seed; Michigan, a No. 7 seed; and Wisconsin, a No. 8 seed. Yes, again, I know the Big Ten is a pile of (your description here)! But just when you think you have things figured out in the NCAA tournament, you don’t.

That brings us to Northwestern. I don’t know what to tell you about Northwestern. On Sunday, I starting writing a sentence poking fun at Vanderbilt, the Wildcats’ first-round opponent, for its 15 losses. But I erased it when I remembered Northwestern had lost 11 games. The Cats’ feel-good story could go up in flames quickly. Or it could continue with an upset of top-seeded Gonzaga in the second round. You’re on your own here.

Now Duke. There was a lot of whining that the Blue Devils got a No. 2 seed instead of a No. 1 seed, but the blubbering came from TV folks who regularly feed grapes into the mouth of a prone and robed Coach K. Also, Dick Vitale complained about Syracuse not making the tournament, but that’s because he finds it very upsetting to see Orange coach Jim Boeheim crying, which happens a lot.

This is a long way of saying you should pick Duke to win it all. Every fiber of my ‘‘I Hate Duke’’ sweater says not to pick the Blue Devils, which, in this upside-down season, must mean they’re going to be the last team standing. It hurts to write that. But I need the money.

Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.


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