When March rolls around, there is a noticeable dry spell in professional sports. The National Basketball Association season is on cruise control until late April, the Major League Baseball season doesn’t kick off until April, and the National Football League doesn’t start again for months. So, from the looks of it, most would think that March really shouldn’t be that exciting of a sports month. However, two words prove otherwise: March Madness.

Few feelings in life compare to the euphoria one experiences when filling out their NCAA tournament bracket every March. To the casual observer, the bracket only looks like a piece of paper with college names on it, but to the diehard sports fan, the bracket is much more. The bracket represents one’s sports knowledge and that single piece of paper could give someone bragging rights for the rest of the year. The following are eight elite tips for making sure that your bracket has the fewest blemishes on it after the National Champion has been crowned.

Coaching actually matters in the tournament. During March Madness, a coach can single-handedly lose a game for his team. Before filling out your bracket, you should know things like the fact that Roy Williams has never lost a first round game in the tournament.

Be wary of the “Untested Teams.” These are the teams that haven’t had to face any really challenging opponents yet in the season, so their record could be deceiving. This doesn’t mean that these teams aren’t capable of making a run in the tournament; it just means that you have to err on the side of caution with them. The best example of such a team in this year’s tournament field is Nevada. On paper, they’re 26-3 and look strong, but it’s important to keep in mind that they have the lowest strength of schedule out of every team in the Associated Press Top 25.

Don’t head into the selection process already having decided on whom you are picking to win the tournament. It’s okay to favor one team to win it all, but study each of the games they would have to endure to make it to the end. Make sure that a team they’re likely to face isn’t good at exposing a certain weakness they may have.

Be afraid, in fact, be very afraid of the “Defense Sleepers.” These are the teams that throw out defenses that a lot of teams don’t get to see throughout the year. Syracuse likes to throw out the old high-school favorite 2-3 zone defense, while West Virginia pesters their opponents with the rarely seen 1-3-1 defense.

If you’re planning on just picking all of the top seeds, be prepared to receive a tsunami-sized backlash from everyone else in your tournament pool. Not always, but most of the time, the person whose bracket prevails over all others is someone who wasn’t afraid to go out on a limb with a few of their picks.

Each year, everyone tries to pick out the “Cinderella Teams” that will shock the basketball nation with a few upset victories. I’d recommend choosing about four #9 and #10 seeds, and one #11 through #14 seed that you are completely sold on.

Finally, scour newspapers and relevant magazines every day between Selection Sunday and the play-in game on Tuesday. Don’t let the excitement of March Madness finally rolling around get to you, morphing you into “the guy who fills out his bracket in 10 minutes.” You can always bank on a good chunk of your opponents undervaluing proper preparation, so while tedious, it’s a way for you to gain an invaluable edge.

All that being said, when UCSB qualifies for the tournament this year, I’m throwing some of these rules out the window in support of the Gauchos because, above all else, Gauchos ride together.