The science behind a perfect March Madness bracket
By Mike Savicki
When I first read that billionaire investor and Berkshire Hathaway CEO, Warren Buffett, had teamed with Quicken Loans to offer $1 billion for the perfect 2014 March Madness bracket, I was a bit intrigued. Actually, I was more than intrigued. Full disclosure, I was hooked.
I wondered how difficult it could be to pick all the games correctly. Forbes says the odds of winning are said to be one in 4,294,967,296. If you consider the world’s population is 7.1 billion, and not everyone completes brackets, I figure I have a shot.
I already knew a bit about basic basketball science, so starting my perfect bracket was easy. First, never pick a team seeded lower than four to win it all. Since the brackets expanded to 64 (and now 68) teams, well over 95% of the winners have been seated one through four. Second, the winner will likely come from a power conference like the Big Ten, ACC, Big East and others. Sorry, Ivy League. Third, teams that average at least 77 points during the season advance deeper. Run and gun is rewarded in March. And, last but not least, big name coaches have a knack for cutting down the nets. So, if you are on the fence about a certain team, see who is directing traffic from the sidelines.
Google helped a bit, too. I learned that picking at least one 12 seed to win two games should be a no-brainer. As temping as it may seem, don’t pick a 16 seed. I even learned that the presidential brackets rarely slip below the 95th percentile and it’s not against the law to copy POTUS.
It was only when I began asking around for input that the tips became questionable. Pick a team with red in its uniform (a suggestion from the Davidson campus). Pick whatever team Jimmie Johnson picks (a suggestion from a Hendrick Motorsports employee). Pick Michigan State to win two games more than you think they will (a tip – actually, not a bad one – from a Michigan State alum). Never pick Duke (I only included this because I know my editor is a Tarheel and I have been pushing for more column space for two years). And, lastly, if the Cornelius Cougars were a real NCAA team, they would beat everyone (a rumor circulating within the Dirty Mo Basketball League).
Even after combining my knowledge with diligent research and rumors, I still had questions, so I did what any serious bracketologist would do to fill in the gaps; I hit the sidelines of a YMCA youth league game. With a friend’s son on my hip, we asked a host of questions.
Kids tell it like it is. I learned a Grizzly can beat a Ram in a fight so I should have hope for Montana. When I shared a picture of Wisconsin’s “Bucky Badger,” one kid freaked and started crying so I’m only giving Wisconsin a first round win. A set of twins mistook the South Dakota State mascot for the Easter bunny so there’s no chance I’m picking the Jackrabbits. When I flashed an image of Gonzaga’s Bulldog, one player said the dog was “off the chain” and asked his coach if they could change their team name. I’m pro-Gonzaga. The last kid I asked said oranges were his favorite fruit and told me he once tried to bite Syracuse’s mascot on the leg. His Dad confirmed the story, so I’m loving Jim Boeheim’s team all the way to the finals.
So, Mr. Buffett, if you are reading this, let’s cut to the chase. Please make the check out to “Caroline Savicki’s College Fund” and declare me the almighty winner. End the suspense and let the rest of America skip work for the month, tune in to see tipoffs at weird intervals and bet against the team the guy in the next cubicle loves because you know he still has your stapler.
After all, it’s March Madness, and only the perfect survive.
This article was originally published in Currents Magazine in 2014.