Navigating March Madness


1 in 9.2 quintillion
If you’re hoping to fill out a perfect bracket for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, you might want to lower your expectations for picking all the winners.
According to Dr. Nathan Williams, assistant professor of mathematical sciences, if you pick your winners randomly, you have less than a one in 9.2 quintillion chance of choosing only the winners out of 64 teams.
“Filling out a bracket consists of choosing one of two teams for each of the 63 games,” Williams said. “So there are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 ways to fill out the bracket, and only one of those will be correct throughout. If your choices are made randomly, this is the chance of flipping a fair coin 63 times and having it land heads every time.”
The odds get longer if you include the “First Four” initial games that are played on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the 64-team tournament begins Thursday, March 19.
“If we count those four initial games, there are a total of 67 single-elimination games played,” Williams said. “Then the chance of a perfect bracket becomes one in about 147 quintillion.”
But before you toss your bracket in the trash, Williams said not all hope is lost for the savvy basketball fan.
“These seemingly long odds probably don’t apply to a typical fan filling out a bracket, because most people do not fill out their brackets randomly,” he said. “For example, they may know it is unlikely that a number 16 seed will upset a number one seed, or they may be linking their choices to things like their alma mater or team mascots.”
–Amanda Siegfried