As March Madness grips the nation, everybody’s looking to make money off their bracket predictions. Will this be the year that you strike it lucky by picking the perfect NCAA bracket and walking away with the pool prize?
To say the odds are stacked against you when compiling a March Madness bracket is an understatement at best. Putting together a perfect March Madness bracket is near-impossible, with the emphasis on the word ‘near.’
To put it into perspective, not a single person has successfully predicted the outcome of the entire bracket since its inception in 1939. There’s a simple reason for that, and it’s that you’ve got a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance to get it right.
If you know what you’re doing and you’ve got a firm grasp on the teams and players, you’ll be able to manipulate the odds in your favor but only slightly.
How do March Madness Brackets Work?
Even if you’re familiar with the inner workings of March Madness, you’d be wise to read on, as there are numerous changes brought about by last year’s March Madness cancellation and several restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic this year.
The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament is a single-elimination, knockout style tournament with 68 teams competing in seven rounds for the national championship. If you’re going to complete the bracket and bet on March Madness, it’s best to know what you’re dealing with precisely.
How exactly does the NCAA determine which 68 teams get to compete and which stay home? The teams that are eligible to compete are split into two groups by the NCAA, namely Automatic Bids and At-Large Bids:
Automatic Bids – These teams are the winners of Division I postseason conference tournaments and receive automatic entry. Ordinarily, there are 32 teams; however, there are only 31 teams this year as the Ivy League did not coordinate a winter season.
At-Large Bids – Ten selection committee members pick the remaining teams that gain entry based on merit. These teams did not win their conference tournaments but impressed the members nonetheless. This step is often called into question as there is no formula to determine which teams are eligible. The selection committee members base their decision on analysis, subjective impressions, stats, and rankings. Ordinarily, there are 36 at-large bids, but this year there are 37 bids.
Brackets and seeds
Before a single tournament game starts, the selection committee members rank the teams 1 through 68 on Selection Sunday (March 14, 2021). The 1-seed represents the best team in college basketball based on regular season and conference tournament performance.
The four lowest-seeded at-large teams and the four lowest-seeded automatic qualifiers play in the First Four that occurs on Thursday, March 18. Once four of the eight teams have been eliminated, a field of 64 remains.
Under normal circumstances, the NCAA split the tournament bracket into four regions; South, West, East, and Midwest, with each region receiving 16 teams. Each team is seeded 1 to 16, with the 1-seed considered the best, while the worst team gets the 16-seed.
Once each team is assigned a seed and placed in one of the four regions, their first-round matchups can start. The higher-seeded teams receive preference in the first-round matchups by playing against the lower-seeded teams. For example, No. 1 vs. No. 16 and No. 2 vs. No. 15 etc.
This year the top four seeds and the First Four will be handled the same, while the rest of the bracket sees things differently. As a rule, geographic proximity drives the bracketing decisions based on the school’s location to the sites hosting the preliminary rounds, but not this year.
This year the teams will be placed in the bracket based entirely on their overall seed. This method is called the S-curve, and it gets more technical.
The bracket consists of 6 rounds (7 if you include the play-in games):
- Round of 64
- Round of 32
- Sweet 16
- Elite 8
- Final 4
- Championship Game
Number of games
An incredible number of games fall over a relatively short time frame of a little over a month. If you discount the play-in games and look at Round of 64 through to the Championship Game, it’s a total of 63 games played in Indiana this year. The teams that progress to the Championship Game will play no less than six games during the tournament.
Understanding the NCAA Bracketology Statistics
What is a perfect March Madness bracket? NCAA bracketology statistics will undoubtedly give you valuable insights.
As mentioned, the odds of compiling a perfect March Madness bracket is slim, with odds of 1 in 9.2 quintillion (9,223,372,036,854,775,808), meaning there are that amount of different possible outcomes. Only if you treat the 63 games like coin flips (1 in 263.), with each team theoretically having a 50% chance of winning the game.
But if you incorporate your basketball knowledge and introduce stats and data into your predictions, you could quite possibly lower the odds to 1 in a few billion.
Naturally, there’s a big difference between picking the perfect bracket and picking one that’s better than others. To get better betting odds, you’ll need to be incredibly knowledgeable, or you’ll have to revert to statistical methods. Still, even those aren’t going to get you close to a perfect bracket, as illustrated by researchers using statistical methods.
The researchers reliably picked close to 70% of the games correctly, dropping the odds of picking a perfect bracket to 1 in 5.7 billion. Similarly, a winning percentage of 71% results in 1 in 2.3 billion odds, and a 75% accuracy results in odds of 1 in 74 million.
How Do You Get a Perfect March Madness Bracket?
There goes a lot into compiling the perfect March Madness bracket, how many upsets you will factor into your picks, how many of the 1-seed teams will make it through to the Final Four, and how will the fact that every team plays in Indiana mix things up?
You could start by betting that all the No. 1 seed teams win their first-round matchups against No. 16 seed teams. It may look like a safe bet, but nothing is certain as proven by the No. 16 seed, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, defeating the No. 1 seed, the University of Virginia in 2018.
If you’re looking for an advantage, it’s best to forget about picking a bracket based on winning percentages and instead weigh the teams based on variables that fall outside of their regular-season records. Look at a statistical method that considers a team’s ranking based on the number of points each game was won or lost by, their opponents’ challenge, and when they played their games.
Historical indicators naturally also play a role when picking.
Consider teams with a No.5 seed or better to reach the Final Four and look at No. 3 seed or better to win.
Look at the Margin of Victory (MOV) for teams that could make a deep run. Not only is MOV a historical indicator of winners, but it can also help you choose the three Final Four games.
Consider teams with good defensive and offensive efficiency. Ideally, teams should be in the top-25 for both defense and offense.
Has Anyone Made A Perfect March Madness Bracket?
No one has ever picked a verifiably perfect bracket at any of the major games in the NCAA tournament history. Before the 2019 NCAA tournament, the longest streak of correct picks was 39 games, made in 2017.
Gregg Nigl shattered the previous record with an additional ten picks. Nigl correctly predicted the 2019 NCAA tournament into the Sweet 16. His luck came to an end on game 50 when his choice, Tennessee, lost to Purdue.
In an interview, Nigl revealed his secret to success. “The secret? Watching many Big 10 basketball, catching some of the bigger [NCAA] games like North Carolina-Duke, and then I always watch ‘Bracketology’ [on ESPN] on Selection Sunday. And then a lot of luck too.”
Shooting for the hoop
According to American Gaming Association research, March Madness is big business, with 47 million American adults betting $8.5 billion on March Madness in 2019 alone, which means that 1-in-5 adults are placing bets.
The NCAA perfect bracket remains ever-elusive, much to the chagrin of sports fans looking to cash in on their sporting knowledge at sportsbooks that offer the March Madness bracket with the best odds.
Despite the unlikelihood of picking a perfect bracket, fans continue to peer into their crystal balls to predict every action-packed game filled with up-and-coming new basketball stars.