By Alex  Norman

I love Christmas… you love Christmas… but with all due respect to the Christmas season, the next two weeks are the most wonderful time of the year.

For all the issues currently plaguing collegiate athletics, the NCAA tournament is something that they haven’t figured out how to screw up… yet.

The first week of the tournament in particular is simply perfect.  Even the so called “First Four” games are fun to watch and a showcase for the hidden gem known as Dayton’s UD Arena.  (Seriously, if you ever get a chance to watch a game there, do so.  It’s a blast.)

You’ve likely filled out some brackets, including one in which you have Stony Brook going to the Final Four, even though they aren’t in the tournament.  Or maybe you are the boring one that always picks “chalk” and roots against Cinderellas upsetting the big guys.  But that’s ok.  The beauty of America is that you have the right to be lame.  Don’t be ashamed.

Anyway, I thought I’d take some time and write out a few things to keep an eye on during the tournament.

First of all, if you are sick of always hearing about Duke, well, I’m sorry.  Because you are going to hear a lot about Duke.

The Blue Devils feature a now healthy Zion Williamson and very well could win it all.  Williamson should be playing in the NBA, but since the current rules keep him away for a year, he decided to spend a few months in Durham.  The way that ESPN publicized the kid wasn’t at “Tim Tebow/Florida” levels, but it was close.

But Duke is not unbeatable, even with Williamson and a host of other future professional players.  A good rule of thumb is that you should probably just play it safe and root against Duke at all times.  With that in mind, just pull for the opponent to win against any of the so called “blue bloods.”  North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, Syracuse, Louisville… frankly, they’ve won enough.

Isn’t it always great to see a team that’s never been to a Final Four achieve that dream?  So why not Tennessee?  They have the best player in the SEC (Grant Williams), one of the best point guards in the nation (Jordan Bone), the most versatile and beloved player in a decade (Admiral Schofield) and a Hall of Fame coach (Rick Barnes).  If not this team, what team?  If not this year, which year?

Let’s delve into some rapid fire topics…

Looking for a realistic sleeper?  What about Wofford!  They are 29-4 and won the Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles.  No one wants to play them.

Trying to figure out how to play hooky from work on Thursday and Friday?  Look, don’t just call in sick Thursday morning.  Your boss will see through that in a big way and you might be on the way to the unemployment line.   Start making sure a hacking cough develops a bit on Tuesday, then worsens on Wednesday.  Just be smart enough not to post pictures of yourself downing green beer at TJ McDrinky’s on Friday at 1 p.m.

So you’ve done a few brackets.  Should you lay down some big cash on a ballgame?  No.  Not you should not.  Why?  Because you will lose.  Those buildings in Las Vegas are tall and shiny for a reason.

If Tennessee loses, is it acceptable to root for another SEC team?  No.  The answer is no.  LSU does not deserve your praise for “allegedly” having a crook for a coach.  Auburn shouldn’t get your love just because Bruce Pearl is on the sideline.  You can’t under any circumstances cheer for Florida.  Get the point?  When other SEC programs succeed, that’s good for them, and in turn bad for Tennessee.  The whole “S-E-C!” chant has always bothered me.  Why do you want your rivals to be happy?

So what do I do when basketball season is over?  I don’t know… maybe take an interest in your kids lives?  They’d appreciate it, I’m sure…  Just kidding.  There’s still spring football!

Anyway, make sure you enjoy the games… like life, they go by quicker than we’d prefer.