03/18/2013 05:23 EDT | Updated 05/18/2013 05:12 EDT

How to Fit March Madness into Your Busy Schedule

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It's time to jump into the (office) pool. Time to prep your picks and get your brackets in order. Time to say goodbye to reality and to enter a parallel universe.

Yes kids, the 2013 National Collegiate Athletic Association Basketball Championship, a.k.a. March Madness, tips-off Tuesday, March 19 in Dayton, Ohio, with what is known as the First Four, wherein eight teams fight over the course of two nights for the right to be subsequently squashed by the top seeds. For all but the fanatical First Four followers, the tournament begins in earnest on Thursday. Giddy up!

Ah, the Madness. Buzzer beaters. Bracket busters. Cinderella stories (if the shoe fits, baby, wear it). More excitement than a heart can handle courtesy of a do-or-die, one-and-done format. And numbers that boggle the brain.

Sixty-eight teams. More than $3-billion wagered over the course of the 20-day tourney, between the First Four and the Final on Monday, April 8, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta (helpful tip: given that the Final tends to end late and be so exciting that you'll need an extra cup of decaf tea before being able to even think about going to bed, call in sick now. I'm sure your boss will understand).

So, you think time is not on your side now, before the tournament even begins? Well, how you will ever manage to cram an estimated 160 hours of basketball into your tight schedule? Corners will have to be cut (honestly, do you really need to shave, shower and trim those unsightly nose hairs between now and the Final)? Creativity will be called upon ("Honey, for the next three weeks, I don't have time to put the toilet seat down, so be aware!"). And necessity will become the mother of invention (you're not a lousy parent, so of course you can help little Janey with her science project. During commercial timeouts).

If the wild and woolly regular season in U.S. college hoops is any indication, this year's tournament could be nuts. There's been no dominating force in the sport this year. It's been all about parity. In one memorable five-week period, five new teams emerged as No. 1. Entering the tournament, the top seeds are Louisville (overall top seed), Kansas, Indiana and Gonzaga.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Gonzaga. The little Jesuit school in Spokane, Wash., (undergrad pop: 4,900) has become a big basketball deal, and is led this year by (cue O Canada) Canuck Kelly Olynyk, the pride of Kamloops, B.C., who ESPN says (set down your Timbit and brush back those patriotic tears) "can rightly be called the nation's best big man." Did I mention he's Canadian?

I keep hearing that the so-called 'smart money' in the tournament is on the Louisville Cardinals. But in a tourney like this where anything can happen, where one sub-par game can send you packing, where one magical moment by a team playing David to your Goliath can leave you collapsed on the court blinking back tears, 'smart money' is money that remains in your pocket. No bets are safe. No bets are ensured to not seem silly three weeks from now.

And yet, we try to crack the code. We become Bracket Heads (as defined by USA Today: "Those individuals who apply logic, trends and higher math to find the teams that will survive and advance"); ignorant of the fact (or simply ignoring it) that "knowledge is not always power," and the person who tends to win the office pool -- picking way more winners than wieners -- is someone who wouldn't know a Lobo from a Hoya. Granted nobody outside of Georgetown University really knows what a Hoya is...

Last week House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested that President Barack Obama spends more time filling out his March Madness brackets than he does writing a budget...

Sounds right to me. And to about a gazillion other March Madness devotees who are about to spend three weeks trying to steal time to devour this bodacious bounty of basketball, served up piping hot in a parallel universe known as Hoop Heaven.

NCAA Tournament Buzzer Beaters