The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament starts on Mar. 15 2016, but bracket challenges begin immediately after selection Sunday on Mar. 13. Everyone aspires to win their office pool, pub bracket challenge, or simply show up their family. Whether you’re religiously studying stat sheets, picking by mascots, or at a loss for strategy, here’s all you need to know about this year’s NCAA tournament:

Bracketology best practices

Hit ‘em high -- No.

1 seeds are a safe bet to proceed past the first round. A 1 seed has never lost in the first round. While you might be tempted to fill your Final Four with all high seeds, less than 50% of all No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four since tournament expansion in 1985. There’s been at least a No. 1 seed in the tournament in each year but 1980, 2006, and 2011. Two No. 1 seeds is safe, but three or more is unlikely.

However, eight of the last 11 NCAA title winners have been one seeds.

Cinderella stories – Upsets are a regular occurrence in March, and over the past few years, there’s been even more parity than usual. The 2015 tournament Final Four featured three No. 1 seeds and a No. 7, proving that lower seeds are more than capable of making a deep run. A No. 16 has never beaten a No. 1 in the first round, so rule that out.

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Picking at least one 5-12 upset is a great choice, and possibly even multiple 12 seeds over a 5. Try selecting two 12 seeds over their opening round five matchups. Statistics show that 12 seeds often advance at least two rounds after upsetting a five.

Six is the magic number – Six seeds are ever so slightly more likely to proceed in the tournament. With upsets, although higher may seem better, shoot for approximately six upsets among the 10-15 seeds.

Final destination – In the Final Four, here’s where the high rankings tend to emerge. While there are exceptions, usually the lowest seed to appear in a Final Four matchup will be a seven seed, like 2015’s Michigan State. While you’ll want to aim higher, it’s unlikely that all No. 1’s will advance to the Final Four. The Sweet 16should have at least one low seed (10 or lower) but a 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16 seed has never made it to the Final Four.

Defense wins championships, but offense makes upsets – As the pool of teams narrows, defense wins games. Cinderella teams tend to achieve upsets with offensive efficiency though, rather than defense. When picking teams ranked 11 or higher for an upset, offensive efficiency is a good measure of Cinderella potential.

Balancing out – Championship teams tend to have it all: offense and defense. Final Four teams usually have similar offensive and defensive efficiency.

These are the elite teams able to cause turnovers and score buckets. There’s a reason the old adage “defense makes offense” is still around – because it’s true. Look for teams with defensive and offensive parity to make a deep run.

Numbers don’t tell the full story – Trying to predict picks purely going by what’s on paper may not be the best strategy, and often leads to a busted bracket. A few intangibles that propel teams to the finals are coaching, experience, and depth. Whilea higher seed often promises a long tournament run, finishing the season ranked No. 1 is a bit of a curse. Seasoned coaches, such as Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Texas’ Shaka Smart, Virginia’s Tony Bennett, and Kansas’ Bill Self are veteran coaches with talented teams. Similarly, UNC and West Virginia boast experienced coaches in Roy Williams and Bobby Huggins respectively, plus have teams that can go ten players deep.

Don’t let your guard down – Great guards contribute to lengthy tournament runs. Perimeter play is essential not only for knocking down jump shots, but for distributing the ball to the rest of the team. Look for quality guards, as well as upperclassmen leaders on teams you pick for the later part of the tournament.

Enjoy these tips to help you score and win big in your bracket pool. Happy March Madness!

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