So you want to fill out an NCAA bracket (or have to fill one out; thanks peer pressure!) but know little more about college basketball beyond the fact there's a big tournament played every March -- and people always start talking about something called "Gonzaga" at some point?
And while most hoops heads pore over metrics, analytics and computer projections, we're going with something a bit less wonky and a lot more quantifiable. And cuddly.
Specifically, which animals tend to do the best in the NCAA tournament? Seems about as good a way as any to fill out a bracket given the entirely unpredictable and upset-heavy nature of March Madness.
To figure it out, we looked at the mascots of Final Four participants from the last 10 years -- 40 teams in all -- to figure which animals or types of animals have had the most success. Follow our guide and we GUARANTEE! you will dominate your bracket pool or the very least have the easiest explanation when someone asks how in the world you have the Loyola Greyhounds making the Final Four.
Last 10 years: Six Final Four teams, including a wide range of breeds: the UConn Huskies, Butler Bulldogs and Georgetown Hoyas.
Trends: Each of the last three Final Fours have had a dog, including ultimate underdog Butler, twice.
This year: Not a lot of dogs in the fight, with three-seed Georgetown as the top-ranked canine. UConn's Huskies are also out there, though they're a nine-seed. Ruh-roh. And if you still have a thing for picking Butler (they're so gritty!) go right ahead. But you should probably know they didn't make the tournament this year.
Last 10 years: Five Final Four teams, including the Kansas Jayhawks, Louisville Cardinals and Marquette Golden Eagles.
Trends: Bird teams have had their collective wings clipped over the last few years with no Final Four sports since 2008.
This year: In a display Alfred Hitchcock would appreciate, the birds have swarmed the field ready to end their skid. Your best bets are two-seed Kansas, three-seed Marquette and four-seed Louisville. Other teams spreading their wings include the Owls (Temple), Blue Jays (Creighton), Mountain Hawks (Lehigh) and Gaels (Iona).
3. Big cats
Last 10 years: Four Final Four teams include the Kentucky Wildcats and LSU and Memphis Tigers.
Trends: Four of the last six Final Fours have had a fierce feline of some variety. We say "fierce" because domestic house cats don't inspire many college nicknames. The Fightin' Tabbies? No chance.
This year: Plenty of options, including top-ranked and heavy favorite Kentucky. The Missouri Tigers (two-seed) are also a popular pick and for the adventurous big cat backer, you have the nine-seed Kansas State Wildcats. Also the Ohio Bobcats and Davidson Wildcats are 13-seeds for those of you determined to lose.
Does this count? Humans
Last 10 years: Nine Final Four teams, including the Michigan State Spartans, West Virginia Mountaineers and George Mason Patriots.
Trends: In a rarity, there were no human mascots last year. And the last time that happened the trend repeated the following season -- 2007 and 2008. So Seminoles and Hoosiers, you've been warned.
This year: In addition to the two schools above, there's also one-seed Michigan State. Of course all this assumes you regard humans as animals for mascot purposes. Which we do. The bigger question: Is a Blue Devil a human? What about a Tar Heel? Because that would spike the human Final Four tally and tilt things this year too with Duke, a two-seed, and North Carolina, a one-seed. Looking for a human upset pick? Besides Ron Paul? How about the five-seed Vanderbilt Commodores?
Armed with this crucial data, we look forward to hearing all of your bracket success stories. And if you're looking for a lab to test our little Animal Mascot Theory, how about doing so against the HLNtv.com team and other HLN personalities in our bracket challenge group? You can join right here: hlntv.com/brackets
Every NCAA Tournament game is available live starting Tuesday night on TruTV, TNT, TBS and CBS.