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The countdown has been on since "One Shining Moment" faded to black in April, and the best week of the year is finally here. March Madness will be in full fever Thursday and Friday, and we have some tips so you don't waste a second.

First things first: As any coach will tell you, you play like you prepare, so do your homework early. That means you should have spent Monday and Tuesday analyzing the field, looking up stats and crunching the numbers on each team's travel so you can fill out your bracket with confidence.

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And don't worry about the boss busting you. Between St. Patrick's Day and the NCAA tournament, everyone knows this week is a complete wash.

Decide where you'll be watching Thursday and Friday. If it's at home or the office, pull out the spare TV or laptop so you don't miss any of the action. Or use this as your excuse to buy that tablet you've been wanting. It will take up less space. Do your annual search for truTV. Consider bookmarking the page or writing it on a Post-It.

If you plan on watching at a bar, make your game plan now. How early do they open? Will you be able to keep your table for the entire day … and night? Are the wings hot or merely spicy? These are important things to know.

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With all of that out of the way, it's on to game day!

9 a.m. ET: Up and at 'em! If your alma mater is in the tournament, start by blaring your fight song. The neighbors will love it.

9:15 a.m.: Pick your outfit. This is very important, because everyone knows clothes can dictate the outcome of a game. Were you wearing that shirt when your team lost in triple-overtime to your fiercest rival? Don't even think about it. (What's it still doing in your closet, anyway?)

But that sweatshirt, now that's what you wore when your team reached its first Final Four. That's some good juju right there.

9:30 a.m.: Eat a good breakfast and hydrate. These are long days, and you don't want to be benched before the night games tip off.

If you're watching from home, make sure you've got enough snacks. Come to think of it, make a run to the store and pick up a couple of extra bags of chips. We all eat when we're stressed (there's no judging here), and you can kill an entire bag of Doritos in the closing seconds of one of those 2-15 match-ups.

10 a.m.: Give your brackets a last once-over. Take a good look because, for the next 365 days, this is as good as it gets. There are no ugly red lines through any team names, no holes left by your furious scratch-outs. In this moment, you are a college basketball savant, the wisest person in the land. Why, you can even see yourself becoming friends with Warren Buffett after he hands you that $1 billion check for your perfect bracket.

The crash back to reality will happen soon enough. For now, it's good to have a dream.

11:30 a.m.: If you're going out to watch the games, leave now. Those of you at home or the office, search for truTV again. Berate yourself for not listening to me and writing the channel down earlier.

Again, don't worry about the bosses. Matter of fact, ask them to join you.

12:15 p.m.: Tipoff! Dayton-Ohio State get us going Thursday, with American-Wisconsin following 25 minutes later.

1:40 and 2:10 p.m.: Your multi-tasking abilities get tested as Colorado-Pittsburgh and Harvard-Cincinnati start. Focus.

3 p.m.: Stretch your legs and take a moment to appreciate the comedic genius of Charles Barkley. Resist the urge to check the standings in your pool.

6 p.m.: Stop the pouting. Or the gloating. It's way too early to get worked up over the state of your bracket, good or bad.

9 p.m.: It's been a long day, and we know you're tired. But you've got to stay strong. There are only four games left, and these are often some of the best of the day. Do a lap around the bar or your couch. Have some caffeine. Switch from chips to Cheetos. You can do it.

Midnight: Well, that's it for another year. Your shirt is covered in potato chip dust and BBQ sauce, and your tattered bracket looks like a crime scene with all of its red slashes. You're not going to be a billionaire, and you can't even taunt your friends because your favorite team got drop-kicked by Cinderella.

But as you wallow in despair, one thought cheers you: You get to do this all again tomorrow.

GALLERY: Tournament field of 68

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