Play it safe or go with No. 12 seeds -- it's time to make your picks for the NCAA basketball tournament. The first round starts Thursday, March 16, around 9 am PT/noon ET, so organize your March Madness pool and complete your bracket prior to the tip-off.

Assemble your March Madness bracket

To start, find a service to host your pool. CBS (our parent company), ESPN, and Yahoo, for example, each offer excellent bracket tools. Look for a service that offers real-time scoring and lets you monitor your bracket via a browser or through an app. If you are the commissioner of your pool, choose a service that lets you easily add members to your group. And if you want to mix it up, look for customized scoring, such as a tool that awards more points for picking upsets or that's weighted toward later rounds.


Do your NCAA basketball research

Before you make your picks, check the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, which FiveThirtyEight calls the "de facto industry standard" of college basketball statistics. You won't find any sleeper picks here, but it's a great place to start.

FiveThirtyEight also uses statistical analysis to sort through the tournament. As a bonus, the site publishes articles throughout the tournament, offering such insights as "The NCAA Tournament's Most 'Where The Hell Is That College?' Colleges, Ranked."


Stay fueled

Finally, the tournament runs over three weekends, so staying fed and rested is key to staying sharp all the way to the championship game. For suggestions on what to eat, our colleagues at Chowhound have compiled essential March Madness recipes, from slow cooker chili to the turducken of cheese balls.

Clifford Colby follows the Mac and Android markets for He's been an editor at Peachpit Press and a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWeek, MacUser, and Corporate Computing.