The NCAA men's basketball tournament, which starts this week, is the wildly popular cultural event that it is because it encourages all but legally sanctioned gambling, offers a somewhat acceptable excuse for workplace time wasting, and lets us talk confidently about things we can't reliably predict. The perfect American ritual. Game on!
Watching, not working
CBS Sports says that last year there were nearly 3 million clicks on the "Boss Button" that pops up a fake spreadsheet when you're watching games in your cubicle. The MSN Hoops Hysteria Survey says 45 percent of us will enter an office pool, then waste an average of 20 minutes a day talking about it. Cost? About $1.8 billion in undone work. FBI estimates on betting? More than $2.5 billion.
How David wins
Smaller schools that win a game tend to have experienced kids who have been to the tournament before and won't spend the first 15 minutes of the game freaking out. Like Siena, from Loudonville, N.Y., which won one game in each of the last two tournaments. Smaller schools that win multiple games tend to have those things plus a kid who has a fat NBA check in his future. Like Butler, from Indianapolis, with Gordon Hayward.
Fixing what ain't broke
The tournament is so popular that of course the NCAA is thinking seriously about changing it. There's talk of expanding the field of 65 to 96 as soon as next year. Why? Money. The NCAA generates about 90 percent of its annual revenue from these three weeks. In 1985, CBS paid the NCAA $27 million to show the games; three years from now, the end of the current contract — $750 million.
Bar talk openers
Mention these lesser known names and look smarter than you are: San Diego State's Kawhi Leonard (he rebounds like a man possessed), Montana's Anthony Johnson (he used to be a dishwasher going nowhere before he scored 42 points in the Big Sky conference final), or Xavier's Jordan Crawford (he dunked on LeBron James last year in a summer game in Akron, Ohio).
Pssst. Here's a tip
Experts in our inbox: Says Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports: "The most likely upsets are 12 over 5." Adds Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS: "In particular look at the 12 and 13 seeds in Spokane." Counters Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News: "My No. 1 piece of advice is not to try to pick upsets." Translation: Don't overdo it going with low seeds left and right. You win your pool picking the Final Four right and the national champion.
The favorites, and why
So who wins it all? "Nobody is going to win the national championship without an elite level point guard," said Scout.com expert Dave Telep. "Past champions have draft picks at that position. Plain and simple." That could mean Kansas with Sherron Collins or that could mean Kentucky with John Wall. Bet on it.