By Jeff Baugus
Ah, March Madness, a time of year where 64 college basketball teams enter the NCAA basketball tournament with high hopes of a championship for their schools. It’s also the season that many math teachers and sports enthusiasts alike look to statistics. A common practice around the country is to try and predict the final bracket results before the tournament begins. This means correctly choosing the winners of the 63 games that comprise the tournament. With two options for a winner in each game, the chances of randomly picking the final bracket would be 1:2^63 or 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (that’s roughly 9.2 quintillion)!
With a number as large as 9.2 quintillion, this calls for some statistic comparisons. So, here we go:
- You’re more than 13 trillion times more likely to be struck by lightning than to correctly pick the final bracket.
- You’re more than 82 billion times more likely to be crushed by a vending machine than to correctly pick the final bracket.
- You’re more than 500,000 times more likely to become a movie star and also be attacked by a shark than to correctly pick the final bracket.
- You’re about 378 times more likely to golf four hole-in-one’s in a round of golf than to correctly pick the final bracket.
- You’re twice as likely to marry a supermodel and have octuplets than to correctly pick the final bracket.
Are the odds really that bad? Well, DePaul mathematics professor Jeff Bergen calculates that if you know a little about basketball, you’re likely to choose the higher seeded teams to win in the first round of the tournament. According to his calculations, this improves your chances to around 1:128 billon. Not too shabby. Still, if every K-12 student in the U.S. knew enough about basketball to choose their brackets with Bergen’s dose of logic, each student would have to create 2,571 completely unique brackets before one student somewhere in the country created the right one!
No matter what the odds of choosing the correct bracket, the excitement of seeing if your prediction works out makes it a worthwhile endeavor. This year’s tournament is sure to be an exciting one. Enjoy!