According to the American Gaming Association, millions of people watch those brackets go up in smoke and get upset by the unpredictable first round of the game every year. Last year, an estimated 36 million people filled out March Madness brackets.
According to SB Nation, Kentucky advanced to the second round of the tournament in 95.6% of all ESPN brackets. And I was not the sole person affected. Saint Peter’s ruined my bracket this year by defeating the favored National Champions, Kentucky, on their path to a remarkable journey to the Elite Eight.
If, like me, none of your teams are still in the running for this weekend’s Final Four, don’t worry. You’re not alone.
Can a flawless bracket selection be achieved?
In the Sweet 16, Purdue defeated Tennessee when the 50th match of the tournament shattered his bracket after an Ohio man accurately anticipated the initial 49 matches of the tournament in 2019. The most extended sequence occurred when an impeccable bracket has never been definitively chosen, as per the NCAA.
Dr. Joel Sokol, a professor at Georgia Tech, conducts research on the NCAA tournament for the purpose of ranking and making predictions using sports analytics. According to him, “Am I right? To accurately predict the outcome of all 63 games, you essentially need to create a flawless bracket.”
Sokol informs NPR that the chances of it happening are extremely unlikely. Since certain games have higher probabilities than others, it is not as difficult as predicting the outcome of flipping a coin 63 consecutive times.
How incredibly vast, you may ask?
If you were to flip a coin just to determine the odds of getting a perfect bracket, the chances are 1 in 808,775,854,036,372,223,9. For those who are unfamiliar with these large numbers, the odds of getting a perfect bracket are 1 in 2.9 quintillion.
292 billion years equates to a staggering 9.2 quintillion seconds, which can be better comprehended by considering that each year consists of 31.5 million seconds.
So, quite absurd.
But don’t worry sports fans. If you know a little something about basketball, your odds can increase to 1 in 120.2 billion.
Is it possible to anticipate unexpected outcomes?
The outcomes of a tournament can help us understand the probabilities of numbers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. There is nothing certain. In sports, there are two main reasons why people love underdogs and upsets.
Since 2003, Professor Paul Kvam has worked together with his colleague Dr. Sokol at Georgia Tech, where they called the method ranking LRMC.
The idea for their approach originated in 2002.
Georgia Tech suffered a defeat with a narrow margin of 70-69, as Jon Higgins from Tennessee miraculously made a last-second 3-point buzzer-beater shot, just after Georgia Tech had taken a 69-67 lead over the Vols in the Peach Bowl Classic with only five seconds remaining.
Sokol expresses, “There must exist a superior method to accomplish it.” Sokol further explains, “It didn’t truly comprehend that this exceedingly uncommon shot from the halfway point could determine whether Georgia Tech was sufficiently competent or not.” Sokol reflects, “Therefore, I recollected this halfway point shot going in, and it didn’t truly make sense that this exceedingly rare shot from the halfway point could determine whether Georgia Tech was sufficiently competent or not,” says Sokol. “Towards the conclusion of the year, numerous experts were asserting, ‘If Georgia Tech had merely secured one additional triumph, they would have qualified for the NCAA tournament.'”
The LRMC, which stands for Markov Chain Regression/Logistic, is a system used by college basketball teams to rank teams based on the victory margin and the court on which they played. It utilizes two primary mathematical techniques, namely Markov Chain and Regression/Logistic, which were developed by two professors.
And their system has worked quite effectively!
Several people turned their heads as the school successfully reached the Final Four. Following Georgia Tech’s absence from the tournament, Sokol published a bracket the following year.
Sokol asserts, “Subsequently, they achieved it. The professors at Georgia Tech were evidently elated, just as we were professionally content, as it somewhat validated that selection. However, coincidentally, it implies that Georgia Tech will reach the Final Four! It was somewhat challenging to be affiliated with Georgia Tech and state that we possess this mathematical system that we do not exert any influence upon.
Since then, the committee selection has been tracking nearly 80 different methods to provide rankings that can help other countries and eventually collaborate with the NCAA, asking them for assistance.
Sokol states, “there is no money involved, even if there are any brackets, I probably shouldn’t have felt like that, and we started doing it once.”
That does not imply that their forecasts have not assisted others in earning some money.
Sokol states, “That sort of occurrence, which has been genuinely impressive. ‘Hey, your prototype assisted me in achieving victory in this competition despite my lack of knowledge about college basketball. Therefore, which charitable organization do you prefer? I intend to contribute a portion of my earnings.’ Instances similar to these, I have received a few emails from individuals throughout the years.”
Even mathematics can’t assist you in forecasting every unexpected upset in the bracket.
LRMC, with its extensive experience in predicting March Madness results for almost two decades, failed to accurately predict the outcome this year. Instead of correctly forecasting Gonzaga as the top seed, they had Kentucky making it to the Final Four.
That was prior to Gonzaga being defeated last week.
Sokol explains that occasionally they do not. On certain occasions, circumstances align in your favor, while on others, you must simply adapt to the situation in any given year. However, in the grand scheme of things, this approach could prove exceptionally beneficial. Despite one’s efforts to calculate every possible outcome, it remains unpredictable, in my opinion. Individuals are drawn to it partly because sports encompass a significant amount of randomness, which is one of the main lessons I have personally learned throughout my extensive observation of the NCAA tournament.
The selection committee couldn’t predict the three teams that would make it to the Final Four in the tournament, with only Kansas remaining as the one-seed. Even the experts can’t get it right. He says not to feel too bad when things don’t go your way.
And although we may never witness a flawless bracket, completing one can enhance the pleasure of watching the tournament.