Now that dozens of teams have punched their ticket to the Big Dance — the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament — you may be putting together your March Madness bracket.
Whether to claim an office pool or to score bragging rights for the next year, building a perfect bracket can be tough.
Is there any way to sway your odds of winning the bracket challenge?
First, let’s explain the bracket. March Madness begins with 64 teams in the first round across four regions: South, East, West, and Midwest. Over the next few weeks, the NCAA Tournament will be narrowed down through elimination games until two teams remain for the championship round.
That means, for your bracket, you need to make 63 decisions. Not bad, right? Think again.
Your odds of getting every selection correct is 1 in 120.2 billion, according to NCAA. You have a better chance of winning the Powerball jackpot or catching two foul balls in a row at an MLB game. If you rely on a coin flip to make your selections, the odds worsen to 1 in 9.2 quintillions.
Though alarming, near-perfect brackets have been verified before.
Gregg Nigl of Columbus, Ohio, currently holds the record for the longest verifiable streak of correct picks. In 2019, the neuropsychologist selected the first 49 match-ups correctly before 2-seed Tennessee lost to 3-seed Purdue in overtime during the second game in the Sweet 16, the NCAA reports.
Speaking with the Today Show before his bracket busted, Nigl said his secret was “watching a lot of Big 10 basketball” and ESPN’s “Bracketology,” as well as “a lot of luck.”
Last year, all verifiable NCAA brackets were busted during the first Friday of the tournament when Iowa State, the 11 seed, beat 6-seed LSU.
So how can you improve your chances of nailing the perfect bracket? Knowledge and a whole lot of luck, experts say. Instead, you may want to look for ways to score points on the bracket (many online options will award points based on correct selections per round, or by the percentage at which you’re right) if you’re hoping to win big.
This typically means that making the correct picks in the Elite Eight, Final Four, and NCAA Championship rounds is crucial. Wrongly predicting a few games in the first few rounds doesn’t mean you’re done, unless a team you picked for the final rounds mentioned above loses out.
When you select teams, pay attention to the seeding, too. According to 247 Sports, when it comes to upsets, a 16-seed team has beaten a 1-seed team just once since 1985 while a 9-seed team has upset an 8-seed team in 51.4% of first-round games.
If you really want to take the bracket seriously, other experts recommend reading up on teams and considering the chance for upsets. If you’re just filling out a bracket for fun, take a guess or flip a coin.
Either way, remember, you likely won’t have a perfect bracket. Even the NCAA acknowledges the chance of a perfect bracket is very, very low – you have better odds of guessing which of the Earth’s grains of sand someone has picked up than perfectly predicting the results of all 63 games in the NCAA Tournament.