March makes amateur statisticians out of folks who don’t know a mode from a mean. Behold, this representative Associated Press story that trots out the old saw of how unlikely you are to pick a “perfect” bracket. In it, a math prof says the odds of picking winners at random and winding up with a flawless tournament prediction would happen once in 100 million trillion tries. To put that in some sort of perspective: Count all the insects living in the world right now. Multiply that figure by 10. Now we’re in the ballpark.
It’s a number so large that the word “large” doesn’t belt it. It’s also hogwash. Astronomical figures around guessing odds are among the lazier statements issued around sports journalism. (Another willfully errant figure: Referring to football fields, which are 120 yards long, as a unit of measurement equal to 100 yards.) The logic that says you have a one-in-100,000,000,000,000,000,000 chance of picking a perfect bracket would also say you have a one-in-1,000,000,000 chance of dialing a friend’s cell phone number on the first try even though you know the city and state where he lives. That logic assumes you are a dog, pushing buttons with your nose.
The bracket isn’t dice; it’s a puzzle to be pondered. You choose winners based on myriad real-life factors that you believe will affect the outcome of the games. The most obvious of these is the mascot rule, in which you imagine the results of a cage match between schools mascots. (In that Final Four this year: the Iowa State Cyclones, the Marquette Golden Eagles, the Montana Grizzlies and the San Diego State Aztecs.) The second-best practice is to note the seeding and derive from it a notion of tendency. Conveniently, the seeds are almost all arranged in such a way that predicting winners is better than a 50/50 proposition. The 8/9 pairing and the 7/10 are tossups, yes. But since 1985 (the “modern era” of the bracket) a #16 seed has never won a game. A
215-seed has beaten a 152-seed only four times and in each of those instances lost the following game. These odds in the quintillions shrink somewhat when you realize fully an eighth of the teams aren’t realistically in play.
The #14s and #13s do significantly better and yet are still nearly irrelevant past the first round. I’m relying on RJ Bell’s counts here: in 23 of 27 years, one of those weaker seeds won a game. But the 432 Sweet 16 teams since ’85 have included just six 13/14 seeds. At the top, things are almost as predictable: about three-quarters of 1-seeds advance all the way to the Elite Eight. And no team worse than a 4-seed has won the championship since Danny and the Miracles carried #6 seed Kansas in ’88. To put that another way: Three-quarters of the field has approximately no chance of winning the title. So don’t pick ‘em.
I say that as some kind of caution — but of course you didn’t pick a 12-seed to win the title, unless you’re a VCU alum. The odds are that unless you let a dart-throwing chimpanzee make your picks from play-ins to New Orleans, your odds of hitting a perfect bracket are way, way better than the mid-quintillions that you’ve been sold. Hell, your chances probably aren’t worse than one in a few billion, at the very worst. Still, in a word: hopeless.
- Rich Rodriguez’s 50th Birthday Featured a Mariachi Band [Video]
- The Evolution of Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen is the Craziest Set of Photos You’ll See This Week
- Champions League Final: Arjen Robben’s Late Goal Wins it for Bayern Munich [Video]
- Champions League Final: Neven Subotic Makes Terrific Sliding Stop to Thwart Sure Goal [Video]
- LeBron James and Michael Jordan Have Now Been Compared to God by NBA Players
- Patrick Division on Adam Scott and Other Golfers are Retaining Counsel in Response to the USGA Anchor Putter Ban
- FloridaSteel36 on Will Smith & DJ Jazzy Jeff Sang the Fresh Prince Song and Alfonso Ribeiro Danced on the Graham Norton Show
- Roethlishotdog on The Evolution of Chris 'Birdman' Andersen is the Craziest Set of Photos You'll See This Week
- vermincain on LeBron James and Michael Jordan Have Now Been Compared to God by NBA Players
- A.P. on Rich Rodriguez's 50th Birthday Featured a Mariachi Band [Video]
86 Responses to “Your NCAA Tournament Bracket is Better Than the Associated Press Says”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.