As the NCAA tournament begins for realsies on Thursday (yes, I know the First Four games are technically NCAA tourney games, but no one takes off work to watch those), here are a few reminders as you prepare to watch the games and react to the madness that ensues.

First and foremost remember, no one cares about your bracket.

When New Mexico State upsets Baylor on Friday or Kansas State knocks out Cincinnati on Thursday, the rhetoric will be all over the sports talk radio shows, all over ESPN and Fox Sports 1, and all over social networking sites. Everyone will be complaining about how their bracket is busted, or ruined or trash.

The bigger the upset, the louder the chorus of complaining fans.

But guess what? Just as was the case when your star running back got hurt in week four and you suddenly had to hope Isaiah Crowell was going to turn into Walter Payton for a week, but your co-workers all gave you that bored look when you began describing the state of your fantasy football team, no one will care if you lose an Elite Eight team on the first Thursday afternoon, or if you really had a good feeling about Vermont and can’t believe Purdue advanced. Those Catamounts were penciled in for two upsets on your bracket, after all.

If you can get past the desire to publicly lament your misfortunes following every missed pick on your bracket, there is some good news: most of the time, those first weekend games don’t wind up having a huge impact on whether or not yours is the bracket that takes home the bragging rights, or the cash (as the case may be) in your average office pool. Because the bulk of these pools weigh the games, giving more points to correct guesses in the later rounds than they do those in early rounds, you could lose a good half of the games on Thursday and Friday this week and, as long as you still have your national champion alive, could still be right there at the end.

That’s the key. It’s not picking the right upsets, it’s picking the right champion. And don’t be pulled into the idea that you have to pick a school because it’s your favorite team, or is from your favorite conference, either.

You want to know how Las Vegas sports books make so much money? It’s because way, way too many people bet with their heart instead of their head, even when they think they aren’t. I fully admit that my personal feelings about a team or a school influence how I pick games, one only needs to read my weekly football picks (published online and in Saturday editions of the Delphos Herald in the fall) to know that I have difficulty staying neutral when it comes to putting my money, or even my reputation as a sports “expert,” on the line.

If you can find a way to remove all emotion and look at each game on its merits, you can make level-headed calls on most of these games. That strategy will keep you from falling apart early in the tournament, but in order to win you either have to a) pick almost all early round games correctly and have a big enough lead at the end that it won’t matter if your champion loses, so long as it doesn’t happen until the Final Four, or b) pick a champion that very few others pick, and hope you’re right.

Two final bits of advice: don’t take things too seriously, and next year, make sure you have enough vacation time ready so you don’t have to watch the games online and hope not to get caught.

Until then, enjoy the Madness.