The nearly-impossible task of a perfect March Madness bracket
If you've already crumbled up your NCAA March Madness bracket and are looking forward to next year, you're not alone.
Oral Roberts DOES NOT CARE about your bracket. pic.twitter.com/QmWdCf4AKc— ESPN (@espn) March 19, 2021
However, there are still quite a few unblemished brackets as of Friday night. It theoretically is possible to correctly pick the 63 games in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
Saying the odds of a perfect bracket are astronomical, however, is an understatement.
During the tournament, there are 63 games between two teams. To calculate the odds, we simply have to take the number of outcomes (two) and put it to the power of the number of games and then multiply that out.
So, your odds to get that perfect bracket (and most likely lots of money) are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. Or, more simply, 1 in 9.2 quintillion.
Let's (try to) put that number into perspective. You could theoretically win the Powerball jackpot 31 billion times before you fill out the perfect bracket. You are 2 trillion times more likely to get attacked by a shark than guess all the March Madness games correctly. And, you could get struck by lightning 18 trillion times before you'd ever strike gold with a perfect bracket.
Here's another example. Let's use 2015's estimate of 3 trillion worldwide trees as our baseline. And for fun, let's say I hid an acorn in just one of them. Now, you get one shot at trying to pick which tree (throughout the ENTIRE WORLD) I hid this acorn is. Seems impossible, no? Well, your odds of accomplishing this task are THREE MILLION times better than trying to find the perfect bracket.
Full disclosure: the 1 in 9.2 quintillion odds are only if you flipped a coin or guessed the outcome of the games. If you have knowledge about the teams and the sport, your odds do get better!
They drop to 1 in 120.2 billion! Hooray! And even with advanced computer models, the most optimistic odds out there are about 1 in 2 billion.
To borrow a phrase from Mad Men, those odds are "not great, Bob!"
But we soldier on!
The NCAA did an analysis of bracket picks over the last five years. On average, a player guesses about two-thirds of the games correctly for an accuracy percentage of 66.7%. That's pretty good, but nowhere near perfect.
So, will there ever be a perfect bracket?
However, if we assume that everyone in the United States fills out a unique bracket with 66.7% accuracy, the numbers tell us that it will happen. Eventually. In the year 2385.
Now THAT is March Madness!
Forecasting the future can be hard, right?