Best bracket in March Madness history: What is the longest-running perfect bracket?

Everyone who fills out a bracket in March Madness loves to dream that theirs will be perfect. That this will be the year they not only win their pool, but make headlines as the first ever to have a perfect bracket.

Could it happen someday? Perhaps. But it’s very unlikely.

Getting 63 games correct sounds difficult on its own, but the odds make it sound impossible. Based on the math, it would take more than nine quintillion brackets to be filled out in order for one to be 100 percent correct.

That’s what makes the long streaks so fun. Hearing that someone has gotten the first 20-plus games correct feels like a major victory and a fun story, even if that isn’t even out of the first round.

But who has come the closest? Sporting News takes a look back at some of the most valiant attempts at making history.

MORE: Warren Buffett’s March Madness bracket challenge, explained

What is the longest-running perfect bracket?

Back in 2019, Gregg Nigl picked the first 49 games correct. It was the first time a verified bracket had ever remained perfect through the Sweet Sixteen and well surpassed the previous record of 39 straight correct.

Nigl’s perfect bracket finally reached its end when Purdue defeated Tennessee in the 50th game of the tournament. 

It is very likely that record will stay put for quite a while. The odds of him even getting that many correct was 1-in-516,798,000,000,000. After he was perfect through 49, his odds of remaining perfect the rest of the way (based on a coin toss pick of each game) was about 1-in-16,384.

The rest of his bracket did not go quite as well as the start. He correctly predicted that Kentucky, Virginia, Gonzaga, Michigan State and Duke would reach the Elite Eight. He only nailed Virginia being in the Final Four, and had the Cavaliers losing to Kentucky in the semifinal, with Gonzaga beating the Wildcats in the championship. UVA went on to beat Texas Tech in the national championship that year.

Odds of a perfect bracket in March Madness

There’s a reason Nigl’s name will likely pop up every year around March Madness for a long time, and it’s because he was closer than anyone before — or since — to pulling off the impossible.

The actual odds of a perfect bracket — based on a 50/50 shot of each game — is 1-in-9,223,372,036,854,775,808. Spelled out, that’s one in nine quintillion, 223 quadrillion, 372 trillion, 36 billion, 854 million, 775 thousand, 808. With basketball knowledge, the NCAA expects the odds to go up to 1-in-120.2 billion.

MORE: Why it’s nearly impossible to pick all 63 NCAA Tournament games correctly

Best March Madness brackets by year

2023

The last perfect bracket ended in epic fashion in 2023 when Fairleigh Dickinson became the second No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed, upending Purdue in the tournament’s 25th game Friday night.

2022

No. 11 Iowa State’s upset over No. 6 LSU ended the last remaining perfect bracket (an ESPN user) on the first Friday of the 2022 tournament.

2021

It did not take long for all the perfect brackets to go down in 2021. After the first day of action, there were only 121 perfect brackets. On the second day, Maryland’s defeat of UConn eliminated the final three perfect brackets that had predicted the first 28 games correctly.

2020

Everyone was perfect. No one was perfect. There was no tournament, and there were no selections, which meant that any mock brackets filled out got nothing wrong and nothing right.

2019

Nigl started the bracket with a perfect 49 games correct before getting one wrong. It stands alone as the best start to a verified bracket of all time.

2018

There were 25 brackets that believed they were on fire through the first 28 games of the tournament. Then came game No. 29. That cleared the field out.

2017

Before Nigl shattered the record in 2019, one Yahoo bracket had set the pace for the most games unscathed in March Madness. One bracket got the first 39 games correct, but the run came to an end when Purdue beat Iowa State.

2016

There were no brackets that made it past the first round. One bracket reached 25 games in a row to start the madness, but Stephen F. Austin defeating West Virginia halted that final bid for perfection.

2015

ESPN’s bracket game set a then-ESPN Bracket Challenge record with 34 straight correct picks. It wasn’t until Arizona beat Ohio State that the perfect run came to an end.

2014

There was one Yahoo bracket that went perfect through the first 36 games that had previously set the record for the longest streak. Yahoo reported it was the only time there had ever been a perfect first round in the site’s history.

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