I'm not a big basketball fan until March rolls around. That's when the excitement of the NCAA tournament draws me in.

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I’m not a big basketball fan until March rolls around. That’s when the excitement of the NCAA tournament draws me in.

This year, for the first time in about a decade, friends got me to join a pool, filling in the brackets and picking a winner. Not being the biggest hoops junkie but wanting to do it right, I did a little research, listened to sports talk on radio and television.

It made me realize that March Madness is remarkably similar to Mutual Fund Madness, the process investors go through to select a new investment.

With funds, you are the tournament organizer, setting the rules by deciding on the specific role you want a new issue to fill. You set the field; it’s easy in most asset categories to find a few dozen above-average possibilities that you can pit against each other, with the prize for the winner being your deposit.

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Only funds that fit your basic criteria — maybe no sales charge, a $2,000 minimum investment and low expenses — make the cut as you “set the brackets.”

Ideally, you won’t come up with 64 contenders, the way the basketball tournament does, but you’ll have anywhere from four to 16 names to pit against each other.

With those contenders locked into place, your role changes from organizer to pool player trying to divine the eventual champ.

You’ll make your pick based on:

• Record: The best fund isn’t always the one with the best recent gains. Look at how the record was accomplished. Did the fund win by being consistent, or did it give a bumpy ride that included big winning and losing streaks?

Depending on your personal style, you might be willing to sacrifice a bit of potential return in exchange for a smooth, steady run.

• Playing style: Some basketball teams run and gun, others live by the three-point shot, and some like to pound the ball inside.

The same goes for funds; some are built for aggression, others consistency. Some run hard with the bulls, others dance with the bears.

Look at how a fund achieved its record, and see what management has to say about the way it runs money. Ask for newsletters or reports that show the manager’s thinking.

Ability to handle pressure: Playing conditions count. Examine performance in all market conditions, including the best and worst years, to get a handle on the fund’s extremes. Make sure you could live with the fund if its worst years return.

• Coaching: It’s the rare fund boss who consistently delivers the results expected from the asset class; beating the group regularly is special.

When considering a fund’s record, make sure it was built under current management. If not, look to see if the fund has changed over time.

If you can’t get a feel for how the fund is managed and what you can expect, chances are the fund won’t win your trust or your money.

• Bench strength: For funds, this is the quality of the parent organization. Picking boutique funds is like selecting underdogs; you may get some wins, but they’ll have to prove to you that they can go the distance to get your cash.

• Gut: In the end, picking a fund still boils down to a gut feeling that this is the gamble with the best chance for success. Chuck Jaffe is senior columnist at CBS Marketwatch. He can be reached at jaffe@marketwatch.com or Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.