Bracket picking time is just two weeks away, and I’ve finished my analysis for the rules for picking your Final Four and champion. This is the annual Insider feature piece that I use to fill out one of my bracket models. (I’ll have at least three other models this year as well.)
At this moment, everyone’s bracket is still perfect—even though we don’t know who will make the dance and where they’ll be seeded. But the odds are that fewer than 10 percent of tourney pool players will still be able to say that after just the infamous “First Four” games on Tuesday and Wednesday.
For those elite 10-percenters, the theoretical odds of filling out the rest of the bracket perfectly are about nine quintillion to one—more specifically, one in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, or two to the 63rd power. Of course, these are just the theoretical odds of picking a perfect bracket. We all know that 16 seeds are virtually assured of losing out of the gate, 15 seeds are 95 percent likely to lose, and 13 and 14 seeds are longshots to win as well. Still, if you wanted to be absolutely sure you achieved bracket perfection—remember: two 15 seeds sprung upsets last year—you would have to fill out all those nine quintillion brackets.
I’ve described this before, but it bears repeating: nine quintillion is a large number. Consider this: there are, according to various sources, 134,548 schools in America, from pre-K through college, both public and private. Let’s say that they all had a standard 94×50-foot college-sized basketball court (a stretch, I know). Let’s assume further that you had the time, gas mileage and payload capacity to cart all these brackets to each school and evenly paper their courts. Every school would get 69 trillion brackets and could cover their courts 9.4 billion times—and that would create stacks all around the country 591 miles high. That’s the distance from St. Louis to New Orleans…or, for you West Coast fans, the distance between San Francisco and San Diego.
Bottom line: you’re not going to fill out a perfect bracket. If you’re like me, though, you’ll happily take solace in winning your pool. In this case, the challenge is a tad easier. Depending on the number of people you’re up against and your round-by-round scoring method, you’ll need to make somewhere between 48 and 54 correct picks out of the 63 tourney games to come out on top. This works out to a more manageable 76 to 85 percent accuracy rate.
If you’re interested in learning about the rules we devised to identify 95 of the last 112 Final Four contenders and 25 of the 28 champions in the 64-team bracket era, check out “Method to the Madness,” our Insider Final Four/Champ analysis in the “Tips+” section.