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Crazy for March Madness Data

Taylor Bloom Writer, SportTechie

The NCAA National Basketball Tournament drives fans into a frenzy to find facts and anecdotes to pick a perfect bracket. 

March Madness is turning hardcore and casual fans of college basketball into data scientists to help them pick the right teams that will result in the perfect, winning bracket.

It’s nearly impossible to fill out a flawless bracket, which drives people on crazy scavenger hunts, looking for any fact, figure or pattern to bend gut feelings into educated guesses.


The odds of selecting winners for all 63 games are mind-boggling. It’s the equivalent to flipping a coin and having it land on heads 63 times in a row. The exact odds come out to be 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.

There are a few absolutes that ground March Madness, but even these may not stand the test of time.

Selecting the winner of each match up in the bracket is not a 50/50 decision for many reasons, which becomes evident the deeper you dive into the data.

For the most part, chances are that all high seeds above 13 win the overwhelming majority of the time – for example, a number one seed has never lost to a 16-seeded team – but it’s still not a sure bet.

The chances of filling out a perfect bracket, assuming that the top seeds will win, is still only 1 in 128 billion, according to Jeff Bergen, a mathematics professor at DePaul University.

Maybe that’s why no one won Warren Buffet’s $1 billion March Madness challenge last year. When that challenge wasn’t renewed for the 2015 tournament, many took it as a sign that chances for winning may have taken a turn for the better.

Last year, Kaggle, a competition-based platform for predictive modeling and analytics, teamed up with Intel to create the March Machine Learning Mania competition where the winner took home $15,000. That competition was a boon for data analyzers who enjoy sleuthing and whittling down tons of information to help find a solution to problem – like picking the winning 2014 NCAA men’s basketball team.


This year there are more tips and commentary than ever to help pick a winning bracket, but first print out your own bracket and wrap your mind around these data points:

The odds of creating a perfect bracket are equivalent to 9.2 billion written 1 billion times.

The American Gaming Association is expecting 40 million Americans to fill out brackets this year, with an average of two brackets per person. As more people participate, the Titanic odds for someone to win might begin to look a little more promising.

A number-1 seed has never lost its opening game against a number-16 seed. While a 16 seed has never defeated the number-1 seed, a 15 seed has prevailed in their first round match up six times since 1979.

The top ranked team has won 19 championships since 1979, the year Magic Johnson and Michigan State defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State team.

The lowest seeded team to win the entire tournament was Villanova as a number-8 seed in 1985.

The Final Four has consisted of four number-1 seeds only once. This happened in 2008 with UCLA, North Carolina, Kansas and Memphis. UCLA has the most national titles, winning 11 championships, including 10 between 1964 and 1975. Behind UCLA is Kentucky with eight titles, then Indiana and North Carolina, each with five titles.


The highest seeded Cinderella teams that have gone on to make it to the Final Four are three 11 seeds: George Mason (2006), VCU (2011) and LSU (1986).

While TVs at home and public places will be tuned to games during the tournament, people will be able to augment the experience with the NCAA March Madness mobile app.


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