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The Baltimore Sun

DO YOU ASK SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN divorced five times to give marital advice? Would you want someone who's wrecked his car to drive yours? Would you want someone who's never won an NCAA tournament pool to help pick yours? What were my editors at The Sun thinking? I've been married to the same woman for nearly 25 years, have driven the same car for nearly 12 and haven't won an NCAA pool since, well, ever. But that's the assignment folks, so listen up. Here are 10 tips for picking your brackets.

1. Use your head, not your heart

If you are a Maryland fan, join multiple pools and have Maryland going all the way in one of them, just in case you bump into Gary Williams at the gas station so you can tell him, "Hey, Coach, I had you guys winning it."

2. If you don't like a team, pick it to lose

My younger son abhors Duke, but he is going with the Blue Devils to win at least one game. Do you really think he's going to enjoy himself watching them play Virginia Commonwealth and rooting for Josh McRoberts, not to mention a coach he calls "The Devil"?

3. Forget the glass slipper

The selection committee certainly eased your job this year by matching several potential Cinderellas against each other, but for all the talk about parity, don't get crazy and think a team like George Mason is going to make another run this year.

4. Pick a shoe company, not a nickname or uniform color

For all the stories we've heard about grandmothers choosing their favorite color or animal, my suggestion is to go with the team that wears your favorite sneaker, since at least it has something to do with basketball. (If both teams wear the same brand, go with the team whose point guard's shoe size is closest to yours.)

5. Starting times over starting lineups

The starting time of a game has a lot to do with its outcome. It seems to me that most upsets occur when the arenas are half-empty, meaning the first game or last game of the day. Unless it's Kentucky, and half the state is in the building.

6. Listen to Digger and go the other way

Digger Phelps has a great shtick going, down to his highlighters matching the color of his ties. But the guy has been better at predicting the longevity of son-in-law Jamie Moyer's baseball career than he has in picking the tournament.

7. Channeling Jerry Palm

You still have a few hours left before submitting your final pool (or pools), but have you looked at bracketologist Palm's Rating Percentage Indexes, records vs. Top 50 or a team's free-throw shooting in the last five minutes? You can bet the computer geek two desks down has, and there's a reason he's won the past 10 years.

8. Location, location, location

The selection committee doesn't want to give teams an advantage by playing on their home court or near their fan base. Inevitably, this plan falls apart, no more obvious than Louisville playing in Lexington with all the Kentucky fans nowhere in sight. If a team is within 250 miles of campus, pick it to win.

9. Take chances early

If you get 24 of the first 32 games right - something I never seem to do - you're still alive. Don't knock out your top three seeds until the Sweet 16. It's not as much fun as going with an underdog, but it makes a lot more sense. (Just to tell you: I have Oral Roberts going to the Sweet 16.)

10. Don't beat your boss

It's OK to win the family pool over the kids (something I have yet to do) or even the guys you carpool with to work. But if you beat your boss, you'd better donate your winnings to his favorite charity or take your two weeks off as soon as possible. It's a long way until next year's tournament.

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