March MATHNESS: Bracketology

3 years ago

In theory, the March Madness tournament is set up to give each team a 50% chance of winning each game. Unfortunately for you, that means picking a perfect bracket is roughly the equivalent of flipping a coin 63 times and guessing the outcome correctly each time. For those keeping count, those odds are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.

To put that in perspective, you’re much more likely to win the Powerball Jackpot – 52 billion times – before you pick a perfect bracket.

Fortunately for you, here’s a tool that has produced brackets that outscored 99.9% of millions of brackets submitted to ESPN. Developed by Dr. Tim Chartier of Davidson College, “March Mathness” uses highly complex algorithms that place weight on factors you deem game-changers, such as difficulty of a team’s schedule, playing at home vs. away, ability to sustain a winning streak and others.

In a nutshell, this thing helps takes a lot of the guesswork out of filling out your brackets.


If you’re interested, here’s a breakdown of the math behind the tool from two RV-ers who helped Chartier develop the research at Davidson College, Lucy McMurry and Brian Sachtjen (video below):

Building your bracket starts with a choice between two mathematical ranking methods, both based on linear algebra and matrix math: The Colley Ranking Method and the Massey Ranking.

Massey Rankings are based on winning percentages with score difference as a factor.

The Colley Method is based on winning percentages with time of season as a factor. By default, teams are weighted +1 for a win, -1 for a loss, and brackets are ordered using Matrix Math.

Betting on winning percentage alone is unreliable, because not all wins and losses are created equal. For example, in the match-up between 1-seed Villanova and 16-seed Lafayette, it’s a safe bet to say the Wildcats have the advantage. (In fact, there has never been a 16 vs. 1 upset in the history of the tournament.) On the other hand, sometimes teams are remarkably under-seeded — which results in upsets you might not have seen coming.

Using Chartier’s tool you can customize your brackets based on factors you deem most important – and how much those factors should weigh in on your final bracket.

Let’s say you think games played later in the season are much more indicative of a team’s ability than the first few games of the season. You can weight those wins differently. You can also weight time of day games are played, score difference and other factors not typically considered in winning percentage rankings.

Here’s even more about the tool and Bracketology from Brian and Lucy:

FULL DISCLOSURE: Remember when we told you this tool has produced brackets in the top 99.9% of millions of brackets on ESPN? Yeah, that bracket still only got 5,170th place – and none of the brackets that beat it were even close to perfect. Even with this awesome tool, you’re probably not going to be the first March Madness fan in history to nail down a billion-dollar bracket.*

*But if you do, we hope you remember this.

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