As I’ve been crunching the team numbers in anticipation of the bracket announcement (nine teams to go!), that Quicken Loans billion-dollar bracket has been rattling around in my brain. Part of the reason is that the digital marketing company helping QL and Buffett promote the contest has been hounding me to post a completely worthless infographic on how to pick a perfect bracket (“work backwards…pick a 5v12 upset…guard play is key…be wary of 14-16 seeds”—yeesh).
Let’s face it: even if you were 70% correct in all your picks, your odds of getting the bracket right would be about 1 in 580 million. Ain’t happening.
Still…we’re all going to try, aren’t we? And my best advice is this: get crazy within reason. No, do not pick a 16 seed to knock off a one seed. And, despite the last couple years, I’m not picking a 15 to shock another two. But a 3v14 and/or 4v13 upset if fair game—at least in this “shoot the moon” bracket.
One thing you should definitely do is make your bracket look like other brackets from the 29-year, 64-team tourney. Since 1985, there have been an average of 8.7 upsets per dance. I define an upset as any game in which a team seeded four positions or lower surprises a favorite. As you can read in the Insider 2014 Upsets feature, most of these upsets occur in the first two rounds of the dance. There are an average of 4.4 upsets in the opening round, 2.7 in the second round—and only 1.5 thereafter.
If you’re wondering whether you should go with more or fewer than 8.7 upsets, the following chart might help. It shows the number of times over the 29 years that a tourney has seen 3-5 upsets, 6-7 upsets, 8-9 upsets, 10-11 upsets and more than 11 upsets:
It’s worth noting that the last four years have been the most upset-laden in the modern era, with 11 in 2010, 13 in 2011, nine in 2012 and 13 last year. It’s a small sample size, but that’s an average of 11 shockers per dance.
Whether you think this year will have more or less than the average upsets, you should at least make sure that your billion-dollar bracket looks like something the could actually happen—and hope like heck there are no Florida Gulf Coasts lurking out there.