The NCAA basketball tournament features the best college basketball teams from across the US. It is notoriously difficult to predict and great fun to watch. What is a March Madness bracket? What are the odds of selecting a perfect bracket? Is there a way to make March Madness bracket predictions? Read on to find out.
What is a March Madness bracket?
A March Madness bracket is a way of betting on the NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament. Contestants attempt to correctly predict the team that will advance from each matchup.
This is big news, with even Warren Buffett famously running his own bracket tournament.
What are the odds of a perfect March Madness bracket?
If each match in the tournament were a 50/50 coin toss then the odds of predicting each one correctly would be 263 or one in 9.22 quintillion.
Of course each game is not a 50/50 outcome. Many games have a very strong favourite which makes selecting a perfect March Madness bracket more likely.
If the pre-match odds-on favourite had won every game in the 2018 edition of March Madness then by simply selecting the favourite for each game bettors could get their chance of winning down to one in 199,207,883 .
- Read: How to bet on basketball
Unfortunately the odds directly prior to the games take into account information that bracket selectors would not have had access to. As a result, the favourite for a given game may have switched post-selection. The bookmaker margin on each game is also not taken into account making this number incredibly idealistic.
In fact, taking the pre-game odds from the 2018 edition of March Madness, the chances of selecting the perfect bracket according to the bookmaker odds before each game was an astonishing one in 1,844,155,546,199,950 or 1.84 quadrillion.
Things more likely than selecting a perfect bracket
These are of course inaccurate probabilities but, just for fun, these things were all more likely to occur than a given individual selecting a perfect bracket in 2018:
Nine trillion times more likely: San Marino to defeat then-reigning soccer World Champions Germany in Nuremberg.
368 billion times more likely: Leicester winning the 2016 Premier League title at 5001.00.
6.31 million times more likely: winning the billion dollar Powerball lottery.
72000 times more likely: Being struck by lightning every single day for 10 years.
607 times more likely: Selecting the same individual tree at random as your friend from a choice of every tree on the planet.
1.84 times more likely: Selecting a pre-chosen individual ant from an anthill containing every single ant on earth.
For perspective, if the odds of all the favourites winning in each of the matchups during the 2018 tournament (~199 million to one) were converted to seconds, then the duration would be 6.32 years.
The odds of the actual results that occurred convert to 58,477,789 years.
Was UMBC’s 2018 win overdue?
The 2019 tournament was complicated by a historic victory as 16th seed UMBC triumphed over the number one seed Virginia. This was the first time in tournament history that the bottom seed had defeated a top seed.
In fact, UMBC’s victory ensured that not one bracket remained intact after the first round of the NCAA tournament had finished.
However, a victory for such a team was perhaps overdue. UMBC closed at 21.28* in Pinnacle’s March Madness odds ahead of the game, an implied probability of 4.7%.
Given that four such matchups occur every tournament and there have been 34 editions of the tournament featuring 64 teams it is surprising that UMBC were first winners at such odds.
Assuming UMBC vs. Virginia was a standard first round 16 vs. 1 matchup, taking Virginia’s odds of winning the match, there’s around a 14.78% chance that we had to wait until 2018 for a first 16 seed win.
Why not just bet on the matches?
Whilst selecting a March Madness bracket is fun activity, it would be much more financially rewarding to simply bet on the outcome of the games.
Whilst a prize of $1,000,000 in cash sounds appealing, in 2018 a $1 rolling bet would have returned $1.84 quadrillion if you had achieved the impossible and called every game correctly.
March Madness bracket tips
If you are selecting a March Madness bracket then it is important to remember that betting odds are the most effective judges of probability.
The optimal strategy is most likely to just select the favourite for the odds-on favourite for each game. The difficulty with this approach is projecting which team will be the favourite for a given matchup. Perhaps the NCAA tournament winner odds could be used as an indication?