There was a time when ESPN’s Digger Phelps wasn’t just a running joke.

Phelps used to coach at Notre Dame, where, in 1978, his biggest achievement was ending UCLA’s 88-game winning streak.

Now, though, Phelps is known more for his ridiculous idea of matching ties with highlighters and his pedophile-esque dance moves with Kansas cheerleaders (go to YouTube and check out “Digger Phelps dancing” to see the old man sleaze like a champ) than for anything basketball-related.

So it came as no surprise during ESPN’s countless hours of Bracketology babbling that Digger decided “to go out on a limb” and pick all four No. 1 seeds to go to the Final Four in the this year’s NCAA Tournament.

I looked up at the TV and just shook my head, wondering why the producers of the worldwide leader would allow such nonsense to actually hit the airwaves.

After all, I think we all know the Final Four never features just No. 1 seeds.

But then it hit me. When you really think about it, Digger is the one outsmarting us. After all, the Final Four is never all No. 1 seeds, so ol’ Digger really is actually going out on a limb.

Many think this “going out on a limb” approach is the key to a successful bracket in any tournament pool. These people are stupid. Just like Digger.

These are the guys or girls in your pool who pick a ton of upsets in the early rounds, thinking they’ve got it all figured out, only to see their picks fizzle out come Final Four time.

Remember, the “going out on a limb” approach is what Digger adheres to and that goes against the way I live my life. Instead, I adhere to the “what would Digger not do” theory. Just like having four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four makes little sense, neither does picking a ton of early upsets.

Don’t get me wrong, correctly predicting upsets is cool and shows you know a lot about college basketball.

But generally, the key to a successful bracket is picking at least three of the four Final Four teams correctly and choosing the correct national champion as well. Most early-round upsets don’t even make it to the second weekend of the tournament, where more points are up for grabs in most pools.

That being said, I’m going to give you some advice on picking this year’s first-round action. There are instances where teams are ripe for an early exit.

My attention first turns towards two No. 10 seeds that have a great chance of moving on to the second round because they have quasi-home games in the opening weekend. South Alabama plays No. 7 seed Butler in Birmingham, Ala., just three hours away from the Jaguars’ campus.

Davidson is another No. 10 seed with a chance to make some noise. The Wildcats enter this year’s tournament with the longest current winning streak in the nation at 22 games.

They will face mid-major power Gonzaga in Raleigh, N.C. The Zags have to travel across the country and essentially compete in a road game to advance.

Both South Alabama and Davidson could win their opening round games, but I’d play it safe and pick one or the other. I’m going with Davidson because it nearly knocked out Maryland in last year’s tourney.

There are plenty more mouth-watering upsets that Digger would never dream of picking.

I like No. 14 seed Georgia to take out a suspect Xavier squad. And don’t forget about No. 11 seed Saint Joseph’s. If it gets good play from star Pat Calathes, it could give grossly-overrated Oklahoma a run for its money.

My gut tells me to go with another No. 11 seed, Baylor, making a run to the Sweet 16. They play Purdue, and a win would give credence to my theory of picking against anyone who beat the Michigan men’s basketball team by less than 15 points.

Am I going to pick all five of these upsets? Maybe, but I won’t have more than five upset picks in the first round.

It’s easy to forget – going out on a limb is what the idiots on television get paid a lot of money to do.

Mark’s Sweet 16: North Carolina, Washington State, Tennessee, Louisville, Kansas, Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Georgetown, Memphis, Michigan State, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, Connecticut, Baylor, Duke

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