BUFFALO, N.Y. — There's no one way to win an NCAA tournament pool, if you're lucky enough to claim that distinction just once during your life.
You can pick favorites, or go with all upsets. You can pick your beloved alma mater (I'm a Jayhawk, so yes, I might pick Kansas), or let your kids take a crack at it. You can pick schools that honor dogs and cats, or go with teams that feature live gun-toting mascots.
You get the point. There's no one way to fill out a bracket if you're in it for fun. But what if you want to have a financial rooting interest beyond that, especially now that mobile sports betting is now allowed in New York?
Here are some things to keep in mind when filling out your bracket.
Avoid 1 and 2 seeds not ranked in the preseason top 25.
These teams continually failed to make the Final Four. Miami and Georgetown in 2013. Villanova in 2014. And I'm sure you remember Virginia, the top overall seed in 2018, losing to 16 seed UMBC.
This year, avoid Arizona.
Avoid 1 and 2 seeds who missed the tournament the year before.
Since Louisville won the tournament in 1986, 21 consecutive 1 and 2 seeds who fit the bill have failed to make the Final Four.
This year, avoid Arizona, Auburn, Duke, and Kentucky.
Keep in mind conference tournaments.
No national champion since 1993 has failed to reach the semifinals in its own conference tournament, excluding UCLA in 1995 and Arizona in 1997, when the Pac-10 didn't have its own tournament.
This year, avoid Baylor, Auburn, Wisconsin, Texas, and Illinois.
Pay attention to conferences.
Teams from the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West tend to underachieve on an annual basis. The opposite can be said of ACC underdogs; since 1985, 8 of 11 ACC teams seeded 10 or worse have pulled off upsets.
This year, consider Miami, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame. Avoid Davidson, Richmond, Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State, and Wyoming.
Avoid top 4 seeds with low scoring margins.
Winning close games in the regular season is one thing, but trying to string together six games in March is tough. That's why you want to avoid top-4 seeds who win games by an average of less than double digits.
This year, avoid Villanova, Wisconsin, Illinois, Arkansas, and Providence.
Pick 1 dark horse to the Elite Eight.
One team seeded 6 or worse usually reaches the Elite Eight. A year ago, 11th-seeded UCLA made the Final Four, while 6 seed USC and 12 seed Oregon State advanced to the Elite Eight. It's safe to say that one dark horse makes an unexpected run. Just don't go too crazy with upsets.
Pick 2 double-digit seeds to the Sweet 16.
Last year four double-digit seeds reached the second weekend: No. 11 UCLA, No. 11 Syracuse, No. 12 Oregon State and No. 15 Oral Roberts. Again, pick your spots and don't go too wild with upsets.
Don't go overboard on first-round upsets.
The last thing you want is for your bracket to be toast before you get to the first weekend. We all love Cinderella stories. Sometimes the best ones are the ones we never saw coming, or dared to pick.
My Final Four picks:
Gonzaga, UCLA, Tennessee and Kansas.
My championship game:
Kansas over Gonzaga.