Congratulations, you have successfully found the Holy Grail of guides on how to win your March Madness NCAA tournament bracket pool. If you follow my guidelines from top to bottom, I can assure you that you will still be in the mix to win some money come Final Four time. If you choose to listen to all of the frauds out there who tell you to ALWAYS pick a No. 12 over a No. 5 then you will most likely be out of the running by the time the first weekend of the tournament is in the books.

The stories about people winning these pools by picking their favorite mascot, or picking according to which college they would rather party at, are just that, stories.

By the way, as you read on, whenever I say “round 1,” I am referring to the round of 64. Nobody cares about the First Four round unless they are a fan of one of the teams involved. In fact, if you are in a pool where you have to pick the winner of the First Four then I feel bad for you, get out now. March Madness is here folks, let the games begin!

1. Ignore the morons

By now you have probably read no less than 50 articles that claim to have the answers on how to win your March Madness NCAA tournament bracket pool. News flash folks: almost every single one of those articles are blowing smoke up your butt.

Lucky for you, you have come across the best of the best when it comes to winning cash in NCAA tournament pools. I have been participating in these pools for about 24 years and have managed to place in the money more often than not. So, ignore the other morons out there telling you that you have to pick at least one No. 5 seed or lower to make the Final Four and prepare for victory!

2. You don’t have to pick a No. 12 over a No. 5 

First of all, I am well aware of the fact that a No. 12 beats a No. 5 almost every year, it has been well documented. That being said, do not feel like you absolutely must pick one of these upsets. I know what you are thinking, “he just said that a No. 12 beats a No. 5 almost every year, now he is saying not to pick one?” Let me be clear, I am not saying do not pick one, I am saying don’t feel like you have to regardless of the match-up.

Ok, let me make things simple. Look at the two teams playing. Who is the better team? The answer to that question is who you pick to win, regardless of whether they are the No. 12 or No. 5 seed. Since 1980, seven No. 5 seeds have gone all the way to the Final Four while not one No. 12 seed made it to the promised land.

If you are all about looking like the smart guy or gal because you picked an upset in the first round, then go ahead and throw your dart. If you want to look like the smart guy or gal when all is said and done then pick the team you think is better. Who knows, maybe this will be another year that a No. 5 seed makes it to the Final Four.

3. Don’t pick against any No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in round 1

Ok, go into your drawer and grab a permanent marker. Now take out your bracket and fill in every single No. 1 and No. 2 as first round winners. I refuse to get into percentages, because we don’t need them in this situation, but trust me, this is the way to go.

A No. 2 has lost to a No. 15 only seven times in the history of the tournament, not enough to even think of picking an upset here. As far as the No. 1 vs. No. 16 matchup, well, let’s just say there is a better chance of John Calipari doing everything by the book when it comes to recruiting than a No. 16 pulling off a win vs. a No. 1. No chance sports fans!

4. Check the point spreads

When I sit down to fill out my bracket the first thing I do is browse the point spreads. I do this before I even look at who is seeded where so I have a feel about which teams are huge favorites and which teams may be preparing for the fight of their life.

First of all, if a team is favored by 12 points or more, pick them to win the game. If those “in the know” felt like an upset was likely the spread would reflect it. A team that is favored by 12 points more is most likely a team that has the talent to make a run in the tournament, no need to risk losing them in round 1 just because is sounded like a fun pick.

Second, if a lower seed is favored to win the game, always pick them to advance. When this situation occurs it’s safe to say the “wise guys” in Vegas know something and unless you think you are smarter than them, pick the lower seeded favorite to win.

This strategy obviously works best in the first round because you can look at actual point spreads. That being said, once I have all of my first round games picked, I develop my own point spreads for the second round games. This obviously requires a bit of skill, but to be honest, if you can’t at least come up with a number somewhere in the area of what Vegas would pick then you have no right winning a pool anyways.

5. In doubt? Look at guard experience and free throws

If and when you come across a game that you just can’t get a feel for, look at the tournament experience of the starting guards. It’s no mystery that guards, for the most part, handle the ball more than anyone else on the court. Chances are a guard with more March Madness experience will be more poised and less likely to buckle in a close game compared to a younger guard. Now don’t get carried away here. I am not saying every senior guard is better than every freshman guard and you should always look at talent first and foremost.

Another good thing to look at if you run into a game you are having trouble picking is free throw shooting. In a close game, free throw shooting can be crucial and knowing whether or not one team has a distinct advantage in that area could be the difference between you winning or losing money. If the teams seem about even in free throw shooting percentage, look specifically at how the starting guards shoot from the line since they would likely be the players with the ball in their hands at the end of a game.

6. Go with your gut

Last but not least, always go with your gut when you are filling out your bracket. There’s nothing worse than going against your own thoughts and picking a team to win just because some clown on ESPN said to, and then losing. There is no doubt those guys on television know college basketball, but keep in mind that they are also trying to entertain. I’m convinced they make certain picks just so they can brag if they happen to get it right.

Remember, this is your bracket and these are your picks. Always pick the team that you think will win the game, not who somebody else thinks will win.

Does luck come into play March Madness pool? Most definitely. Heck, if I told you that it didn’t then I would be the moron. But the majority of those who finish in money of their pool have a knowledge of college basketball and have done their research. Those two things are a must if you want to beat out the luck factor. So study, study, and study more.

I’m serious, that’s all there is to it. Feel free to find an article with 101 ways to win your pool and I can guarantee that you will be more confused than when you started. If you do your research and follow these simple tips, there is no reason that you shouldn’t be in the running to place in the money of your pool when it comes down to the Final Four. Good luck with your picks! Ha, gotcha! You don’t need luck anymore, you have skills.