Perfect March Madness bracket odds: Why it’s nearly impossible to pick all 63 NCAA Tournament games correctly

College basketball fans across the country are preparing to fill out their brackets for pools with friends and other betting contests. But one thing feels certain: no one will have a perfect bracket.

Though not technically impossible, the chances of anyone correctly picking each NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament matchup correctly are incredibly slim.

Each year there are stunning upsets and Cinderella runs that can’t be predicted. No. 15 Oral Roberts beat No. 2 Ohio State in 2021, and No. 11 UCLA reached the Final Four. The 12th-seeded Ducks reached the Sweet 16 in 2019 in a year that saw no eight seeds and only one seven seed even advance past the first round. In 2018, No. 1 UVA lost to No. 16 UMBC, the first time a 16 had beaten a 1.

Beyond even just the major upset stories, the simple fact behind what makes a perfect bracket so challenging is that even one loss, an innocuous No. 9 beating a No. 8, for example, makes the entire rest of the bracket imperfect.

But as fans start to fill out brackets, there will be some who feel this is the year their bracket is spotless. Here’s a look into why that’s not going to happen.

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

What is a perfect bracket?

If you’ve completely filled out a perfect bracket, that means that you correctly predicted each of the 63 March Madness games before the tournament began. It also likely means you had a sports almanac from the future.

To start, someone would need to pick every matchup in the first round correctly. There are 32 games in that round alone. Based on a coin flip, someone would have a 1-in-4,294,967,296 chance to get each matchup correct.

The National Weather Services gives a 1-in-1,222,000 chance in being struck by lightning. Lottoland calculated the odds of being hit by a meteorite in a lifetime at just 1 in 840,000,000. The chances of winning the lottery are 1 in 292,200,000, per Powerball. So if you think you’re safe outside from lightning and meteorites or think using $1 on the lottery is a waste of time and money, you can also count on your first round having at least one incorrect prediction.

What are the odds of picking a perfect bracket?

How does this number look: 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.

If you were to pick an NCAA bracket based entirely on coin flips, odds say you would have to make that many different brackets for one to be correct. That number spelled out would nine quintillion, 223 quadrillion, 372 trillion, 36 billion, 854 million, 775 thousand, 808.

There is an estimated 1,040,160,000,000 square feet on Earth’s surface, according to Space.com. Someone would have better odds correctly guessing the exact square foot on Earth where a random piece of paper was hidden than getting a perfect bracket.

According to the NCAA, if you have some basketball knowledge, the odds go up to 1 in 120.2 billion. According to Worldometers, there are 7.9 billion people on Earth, it is significantly more likely that someone could correctly guess exactly which person would be holding a random piece of paper.

For reference, it would also take everyone on Earth having basketball knowledge and filling out 15.2 brackets each for the odds to say at least one of those would be correct. By the coin flip odds, each person on Earth would have to fill out 1,167,515,450 brackets in order for one to be correct. ESPN’s bracket challenge defaults to allow only 25 brackets per email, which would then mean each person on Earth would need to have 46,700,618 email addresses.

You get the point. The odds are beyond long.

MORE: The story behind best bracket in March Madness history

Has there ever been a perfect bracket before?

There has not. The closest anyone has come — that is known publicly — was Columbus native Gregg Nigl, who correctly predicted the first 49 games in the 2019 tournament, stumbling only when No. 3 Purdue beat No. 2 Tennessee, according to the NCAA.

Last year, there was not a single bracket that advanced past the first round of the tournament, the NCAA reported.

What is the Warren Buffett March Madness Bracket Challenge?

There has perhaps never been a year of picking brackets quite as exciting as that of Warren Buffett’s 2014 March Madness Bracket Challenge. That year, Buffett, who currently has a net worth of $116.7 billion, per Bloomberg, offered $1 billion to anyone who could get each pick right.

That was the only year in which the contest was open to the public, and since then, he has limited it to just employees at his company, Berkshire Hathaway. His most recent tournament was for $1 million per year for life to an employee that could pick the first and second rounds correctly, or $1 million if they just get the first round correct.

Tips for picking a perfect bracket

Look for a scientist in the parking lot of a shopping mall with a DeLorean, ramp it up to 88 miles per hour and buy a sports almanac from at least 2023. Then come back to just before the tournament and fill out your picks.

Otherwise, do as much research as you can to get your odds down from somewhere in the quintillions to somewhere in the billions.

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