This week marks the beginning of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. People all over the country will be filling out brackets and cheering on their favorite teams (or at least the teams that will help them win the office pool). Being located just outside of the college basketball hotbed of Syracuse, NY, we here in the Bunker always take a strong interest in March Madness. And since we are analysts, we tend to gravitate to the numbers aspects of sports. With that in mind, we have compiled some data that you might find interesting as you make your last-minute bracket selections.
According to the Book of Odds, Inc., the odds that the AP top team at the beginning of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament will win the championship are 1 in 3. If you’re looking to predict a champion out of 68 teams, a 1 in 3 chance is a pretty good proposition. (In case you’re wondering, Duke was this year’s AP preseason #1.)
Beyond the champion, picking the rest of the bracket is a bit more complicated. In fact, for the 63 tournament games that will be played between this Thursday and the championship game, there are a total of 9,223,372,036,854,780,000 possible outcome combinations! Fortunately, you won’t have to come close to picking all of them correctly to win your pool. You just need to pick better than your coworkers – the same bunch who can’t figure out how to use the photocopier or get the messages off their voicemail without asking for help.
Most people, when filling out a tournament bracket, are making predictions on teams they know little or nothing about. In that situation, some adopt the strategy of consistently picking the better seeded team to beat the poorer seeded team in every game. That may seem overly simplistic, but the numbers show that it’s actually a very sound strategy, especially in the opening round.
The sports website mcubed.net has compiled the all-time records of seed vs. seed matchups in the Tournament since it adopted the 64 (and 64+) team format. The first round results are displayed in the table below:
This table reveals three notable trends:
1. A #1 seed has never lost to a #16 seed.
2. The #8 vs. #9 results are exactly even between the seeds. That matchup is a true coin-flip.
3. There is a clear, consistent relationship between seeds and success in the first round. At every level, as the seeds get better, their winning percentage increases.
So, don’t scoff at the person who fills out their brackets based purely on seeds. They are playing the percentages, whether they know it or not. This goes a long way to explaining why the winner of the office pool is usually the person who knows nothing about basketball. (Chances are, they are also the person everyone else goes to when they need help with the photocopier or getting their voicemail messages).
No matter what method you choose to fill out your bracket, we hope you enjoy the Tournament. It truly is one of the best American sporting events year after year. And we’d also like to leave you with one final thought: Go Syracuse!