The most wonderful time of year is upon us.

The weather is warming up; birds are chirping; spring is just around the corner and, most importantly, the NCAA tournament bracket has been released.

March Madness brings in diehard and casual fans alike as they all try to accomplish the same goal — bracket perfection.

With that in mind, here are a few tips that will hopefully lead fans to bracket glory and bragging right amongst their friends and co-workers.

The most important part of any bracket is the national champion.

There is a lot of focus on first and second round upsets, but it's impossible to win any pool without the correct national champ.

One of the better theories for picking the champion is to follow the NBA talent.

Having a roster loaded with future NBA players usually results in success in the tournament.

Last season was a prime example.

Kentucky had six NBA draft picks on its roster making the Wildcats the obvious choice for the title.

This season is more difficult without any team having that kind of overwhelming talent.

In years like this where the teams are more balanced, the best picks are teams that have a first round NBA big man surrounded by good guard play.

Teams such as Indiana, Louisville, Kansas, Duke, Gonzaga and Florida fall into that category this season.

Kansas and Indiana look to be the best options of the group since, along with first round NBA prospect in the front court, they also have a projected lottery pick in their back court.


Along with a correct champion, finding upsets is also key to any successful bracket.

Most take this to the extreme and pick way too few or way too many.

Both are equally as problematic and will doom any bracket.

It's important to find the middle ground when it comes to upsets.

Not counting the No. 8 versus No. 9 coin flips, most years have between six and nine upsets in the first round and any number within that range is usually a good amount. More than that and it hurts your bracket in later rounds; fewer and the bracket falls behind more aggressive players, making it difficult to come back in later rounds.

Last season went to the extreme on upsets with two No. 15 seeds knocking out No. 2 seeds, but even with that pair of surprising results there were still only nine double digit seeds that advanced.

While many go to the extreme in the first round of the bracket, most tend to stall out with the upset picks coming after the opening round.

The upsets continue into the later rounds at a similar percentage to that in the first round so it's vital to keep the surprise picks coming.

Since 2008, at least one double-digit seed has made the sweet 16, and it has been three years since any region had all the top four seeds advance into that round.

The best lower seeds to pick to pull off a shock are those with good guard play. Two factors show up more often in a bracketbuster than any other — the ability to shoot the 3-point shot and solid rebounding.

Teams that get hot from 3-point range and have solid rebounding with guys who track down the long misses tend to pull off the surprises most often.

Also, check the lines in Las Vegas for potential upsets. Every year, there is one or two lower seeds favored to beat the higher seed.

This year, No. 11 Minnesota is a three-point favorite over No. 6 UCLA, and it's usually a mistake to pick against Vegas in these spots.

It's also critical to identify higher seeds that are prone to upsets.

Teams that struggle in March usually play at a slower pace and have trouble forcing turnovers.

Georgetown, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh have historically fallen into this group. They play good defense but don't create many turnovers that lead to transition baskets, forcing them to grind on offense.

These teams tend to go through scoring droughts and, even when they do play well offensively, their slow pace allows the lower seeds to keep the games close and give them a chance to pull an upset.

New Mexico is close to falling into this group, but the Lobos defense creates turnovers at a higher rate, and they play at a slightly faster pace, allowing for a few more possessions to establish their dominance over weaker competition.

New Mexico's major problem is how reliant it is on getting to the free-throw line for its scoring.

The Lobos rank among the highest in the nation with just over 25 percent of their points coming from the free-throw line.

It may sound like a good thing that New Mexico gets to the free-throw line as well as any team in the country, but come March this tends to work against teams.

Referees have a tendency to let more contact go in the tournament and, if the Lobos run into a team that doesn't foul at a high rate or a referee crew that decides to allow a physical game, then they'll have trouble scoring.

The worst case scenario of this situation played out earlier this season in New Mexico's 55-34 loss at San Diego State.

The Lobos, who average just over 23 free-throw attempts per game, got to the line only 11 times. That combined with 25 percent shooting from the field resulted in the worst New Mexico loss of the season.

Barring an offensive collapse, Harvand shouldn't give New Mexico too much of a fight, but Arizona poses a problem to the Lobos in this regard, ranking in the top 20 percent of the nation in fewest fouls per game. The Wildcats main weakness in their 3-point defense which 274th in the nation.

New Mexico is a streaky 3-point shooting team, ranking 91st at just over 35 percent, so the Lobos chances of advancing will likely come down to how well they knock down open looks that Arizona is known to allow.

In the end though, all the research in the world can only do so much and given how wild this college basketball season has been, luck will play as big of a factor as anything in the bracket, so finding a coin and giving it a flip may prove to be the best strategy.

Joshua Perry may be reached at or 505-564-4577. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.