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The Quintillion Dollar Deal with March Madness

Mar 26, 2019

It’s the end of March, which means it’s time for what a lot of the US fixates on at the end of March – the college basketball extravaganza known as March Madness. During March Madness, 68 National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball teams will compete in 63 games to see who becomes the 2019 NCAA basketball champion. Many people in the US participate in March Madness simply by spectating or by betting/predicting the outcomes of games. Some of them are true college basketball fans and follow certain teams during the season, while others are just in it for the display of athleticism, randomness and upsets. Regardless of why people spectate, most people try to take ganders on who will win against who. And all this prediction of wins and losses, generally involves some form of math and statistics. How so you might ask? Glad you asked.

 

First, you must understand a bit about the basic premise of March Madness. During March Madness, there are 68 teams who enter from 32 different conferences. 32 of those teams are ones who have ranked the highest, or have the most wins, in their conference. The rest of the 36 are something called “seeds”. Seeds is the term used to describe teams that did not gain entry to March Madness because of their ranking, rather, they are chosen by a selection committee. There are certain requirements teams have to meet to be considered viable seeds for March Madness, but there is criticism about the fairness of subjectivity of seeds. Despite that the process for seed selection is somewhat controversial, the rest of March Madness is pretty straight forward. The teams are split into four regions of 16 teams and the top ranked team in each region plays the 16thranked team from that same region. Next the second ranked team plays the 15thranked team, so on so forth. The winners of each of those games move on to the next round and then the next and then the next, until there is only one team standing.

Next is the math part, which starts with brackets. Brackets are the basic structure used by people to try and guess who will win and lose each game. They can be completed with good old-fashioned pencil and paper or online and they predict the outcome of each game in the tournament. Brackets are then one giant statistics chart. But not all people stop there. Some people enter pools with other people and bet on the outcome of their bracket predictions. Predictions are compared against others in the pool and whoever has the most accurate guesses wins that pool.

All of these predictions sound somewhat easy with statistics in our back pocket, right? Wrong. There are many types of statistics people have tried to use over the years to try and predict all game wins and losses with 100% accuracy, but with all of the different options and outcomes that could happen, the reality of guessing all games with 100% accuracy is (no offense) a pipe dream! To be exact, the odds of picking a perfect March Madness bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. In case you missed it, that’s quintillion! This means that you are more likely to win Power Ball twice before getting a 100% perfect bracket prediction. In 2014, Warren Buffet told his employees he would give them $1,000,000 each year for their life if they made a 100% accurate guess, a safe bet on his behalf, as nobody has ever predicted a perfect bracket with 100% accuracy. 

So, why try, you might ask? There are seemingly things you can do to improve your March Madness bracket predictions. For one, following and understanding college basketball and teams’ score statistics helps. It’s also safe to say that for the most discrepant teams (#1 and #16, or #2 and #15) the odds are good that the higher-ranking ones will win. However, the closer the teams start to get in ranking, the harder it is to rely on that. There’s also the relative randomness of the 36 seeds. 

While many people focus on the ranking statistics each team has going into March Madness, there are inevitably upsets that happen that prove ranking statistics aren’t always solid indicators of who will win in playoffs. Statistics based on the ranking of teams played, when and where the games were played, and the number of points that were scored in each game by the winning and losing teams should also be considered. For example, looking at how many points teams average on their homecourt throughout the season and comparing them to their scores at away games is a statistic that could prove to be helpful, especially in comparison to how well other teams perform outside of their homecourt. The amount of stats that could be applied is vast and daunting, still, that shouldn’t stop you from taking a 1 in 9.2 quintillion shot at a perfect guess! 

Want to learn more about how we would come up for statistics for predicting our March Madness brackets? Come visit us at Mathnasium of Littleton!