Sweet Sixteen. Elite Eight. Final Four. Title game.
The NCAA March Madness might very well be the greatest sporting event in history.
There, I said it.
I know we have the FIFA World Cup, the NBA Finals, the Olympics, Wrestlemania, and even the annual Puppy Bowl! But think about this for a second: since the tournament expanded in 1985, no one has able to come up with the perfect bracket. The current tournament format — 64 collegiate teams coming together for a single-elimination Hunger Games-style tournament to determine the national champion — just makes it very hard to accomplish it. Getting past the first day without a bust is already a difficult task, which is why the longest perfect bracket streak of 34 is already a tremendous feat in itself.
To further illustrate how improbable it is to have the perfect bracket, a professor from DePaul believes that the odds could be 128 billion to one. For comparison’s sake, the odds of recent sporting events:
*Cleveland Cavaliers winning the 2016 title despite being down 3–1: 16 to 1
*Roger Federer winning the Australian Open: 21 to 1
*New England Patriots erasing a 25-pt deficit to win Superbowl LI: 33 to 1
*Leicester FC winning the 2016 EPL title: 5,000 to 1
*Winning the 6/49 PCSO SuperLotto: 13,983,816 to 1
And yet despite how improbable they were, we still witnessed LeBron cement his legacy as one of the top 5 players of all-time, old man Federer and who he used to be, Patriots and what they used to be, Leicester FC and what they could be, and multiple overnight millionaires thanks to the PCSO lottery. Which means that even with the odds against your favor (try saying that to Katniss Everdeen), it shouldn’t stop you from making your own bracket. Especially now that uber-billionaire Warren Buffet is willing to give out $1 million a year for life to anyone who can predict this year’s Sweet 16, odds of 826,000 to 1 (that’s also possible).
In creating your March Madness bracket for the annual office competition, it’s always important to do a little homework on the 64 teams involved. But instead of checking each team’s record, standings, and previews made by different websites (something that most of your colleagues will do anyway), why not base your selections from those who do this kind of homework for a living — the bookmakers.
Take for example the Southern Regional matchup between (1) North Carolina against (16) Texas Southern. Bookmakers have already placed the Tar Heels as 26-point favorites against the Tigers; highly unlikely for an upset. The (1) Gonzaga Bulldogs are also entering the first day of the tournament as 21-point favorites against (16) South Dakota State in a Western Regional clash. Despite close calls in the past, a 16th seed has never beaten a 1st seed in the history of the tournament. Identifying the big favorites in the tournament should save you time in picking the 32 teams advancing to the next round.
It gets a bit trickier when the mid-tier seeds face each other, especially in the Midwest Region of the bracket where (8) Miami Florida is only a 2-point favorite against (9) Michigan State. Considering that most games will be played on neutral grounds, 2-point spreads almost always mean it’s a toss-up game and an upset could happen. According to Forbes, favorites giving more than 6-point spread have won 86.6%; 50% for those with 5-point spread or less. I wouldn’t blame you if you decide to flip a coin to determine the winner in those matchups.
Round of 32 and things are becoming increasingly difficult. In the past 4 seasons, 14 Sweet Sixteen teams have come from the ACC — good news for Notre Dame, Louisville and Virginia (all solid programs) to join the rest in the next round. Also since 1979, 130 of the possible 152 number 1 seeds have made the Sweet 16. It doesn’t hurt to have a couple of your Cinderella teams advancing just to make your bracket a little more interesting.
For the Round of 16, it’s important to note that number 1 seeded teams will continue to go a long way in the tournament considering that at least 1 top regional seed made the Final Four every year aside from 2006 and 2011. It’s a safe bet to move North Carolina, Kansas, Gonzaga, and overall top-seed Villanova from this round and the next. Try not to forget about your 2 and 3 seeds. In the past 15 tournaments, every national champion was a 1, 2, or 3-seed with the exception of (7) Connecticut in 2014. Lastly, don’t sleep on the SMU Mustangs, who are riding on a 16-game winning streak as they enter the Big Dance and could reach this round to face Duke for a spot in the Elite 8. Upset alert? Definitely.
Now this is where everything gets very interesting.
Try to avoid looking for expert tips and disregard every probability I’ve written thus far for the Elite Eight. Instead, do a draw lots. No, really. I’m not kidding. There may be stats that say otherwise but just for the fun of it, all draw lots for this round. If you want to make it more interesting, drop the cards with the right hand and pick four teams using your left.
Here’s another tip for your Final Four selections: pick the teams that have your 2 favorite colors as their university colors or the teams that have 2 of your favorite animals as their school mascots. Just do it. Don’t click on another website to check the numbers and scores of past tournaments because it won’t help. If it did, Warren Buffet should have already made someone a billionaire by now. Why not think outside of the box for a change. You never know.
And last but certainly not the least: the championship game. Just go ahead and ask your mom — they always know what’s best. Even if she has no idea which two teams are playing based on your bracket, ask her and select that team as the national champion of your bracket. I’m dead serious.
With that, you got yourself the perfect bracket… until it gets busted on the first day of the tournament.
March Madness continues to be the greatest sporting event in history because of the simple fact that anything goes! Bracket tips, previous results, and team previews will only serve as your guide but, like the top seeded teams this year, it won’t mean anything once the tournament tips off on Friday. The only way to finally beat the bracket and be an overnight millionaire is by making 128 billion brackets. No one’s crazy enough to do that so might as well have fun with your bracket, right?
That’s the beauty of the madness that comes every March.
As always, may the odds be ever in your favor.
– David Gamboa