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18 March 2019

When Not to Wing It: Tips and Tricks for the Perfect Bracket

If you're the betting type, then you know that sports and the odds go hand-in-hand. So when game day arrives, so does the inevitable question of whether or not the odds will be in your favor. However, when we're talking literal odds, as in March Madness, office pool/online brackets/bragging rights odds, then things get a little more complicated. To help you in this endeavor, we pulled together a few stats and strategies to increase your chances of winning it all.

First, the March Madness Stats

If you place every team having a 50/50 chance of winning each of their games, then you have a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance of having a perfect bracket. You read that right — QUINTILLION. That’s 9.2 and 18 zeros. Your odds of winning the Powerball are better than this.

Feeling comfortable about filling out your bracket after seeing these odds? Those numbers are definitely daunting. This is probably why Warren Buffet feels so comfortable announcing his challenge: creating the perfect March Madness bracket. Seems like these odds are definitely in Buffet’s favor here.

Fortunately, knowing that not every game has a 50/50 chance of ending in a win just improved your chances. So, if you’re a sports nut and know all the stats, then your chances of having a perfect bracket have improved significantly. You now have between a 1 and 2 billion chance of having that perfect bracket.

Still not feeling optimistic? Is it even possible to make a bracket that can help you beat the odds? We think so. Using past tournaments as a guide, we made three predictions about the future that can benefit your brackets.

1. What are the odds of the favored team actually taking home the trophy?

Here are the past four NCAA Championship winners and their pre-tournament chances to win it all:

2018 - Villanova at 18% 2017 - UNC at 7% 2016 - Villanova at 6% 2015 - Duke at 6%

What are the odds the favored team this year will win? It appears there’s a lot left up to chance. But if you’re feeling lucky, a safe bet is to go with the front-runners. Since your chances are 1 in a billion, you can’t really go wrong — but building a bracket with a proven winner taking the championship is a nice way to stay in the running, longer.

Take away: Don’t put too much stock in who everyone thinks will win. No one knows.

2. What are the odds that all number-one seeded teams will make the Final Four?

From 1985 on, here are the number of #1 seeds that made the Final Four:

Four #1 seed teams - happened 3 times (3.03%) Three #1 seed teams - happened 4 times (12.12%) Two #1 seed teams - happened 12 times (36.36%) One #1 seed teams - happened 14 times (42.42%) Zero #1 seed teams - happened 2 times (6.06%)

You can see that your chances are better if you put one to two number-one seeds up for the Final Four. Or, be super confident and put them all up to battle for championship game spots. You do have a 3.03% chance of winning — that’s not zero!

Take away: Put two number ones in your bracket.

3. If you stick to one conference, what are the odds those teams will place well in the bracket?

Since 1985, historically the ACC has won a higher amount of NCAA Championships. They place with a whopping 10 titles. Following closely behind is the Big East with eight and the SEC with six. In 34 years, the ACC has had a 29.4% winning percentage while the Big East comes in with 23.5%. If you’re a history buff and trust that the past impacts the future, then you might want to bet more on the ACC or Big East teams.

Take away: Use this knowledge as a tie-breaker. When in doubt, pick ACC or Big East.

Honestly, you can plan your bracket as much as you want, but truth is you can’t plan for everything. So have fun with it. And if it ends in heartbreak? You can always drown your sorrows in wings. Just remember, no matter how you fill out your bracket, it has to at least turn out a better than this guy's.

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