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Harvard can only win a March Madness fashion bracket

The CNBC guide to bracketology

The NCAA men's basketball tournament is under way, and we know one thing is likely—Harvard isn't going to win. Sure, they squeaked in as Ivy League champions, but that's about it as far as they will go. According to Ed Feng, a sports data expert who runs The Power Rank, Harvard has a meager 10.9 percent chance of beating powerhouse North Carolina on Thursday night, and a truly uninspiring 0.0 percent chance of winning the entire tournament.

But off the court, in the world of fashion, where people are defined by the clothes they wear, the Crimson reigns number one. That comes according to data from fashion site Polyvore, a social commerce platform where users can curate product collages into "sets" like these.

Siyani Chambers #1 of the Harvard Crimson during a game against the Yale Bulldogs, March 14, 2015 in Philadelphia.
Hunter Martin | Getty Images

This is where Harvard comes out on top, getting included in more sets than any of the other colleges in this year's tournament. Polyvore's 20 million users tend to be on the forward edge of fashion, a "world of virtual Anna Wintours" as The New Yorker put it.

The data suggest that Harvard's brand name has carried over to apparel, with people going out of their way to associate the college's logo in wardrobes they consider to be fashion-forward. Here's the entire tournament bracket broken down by fashion popularity:

Other top names in the fashion bracket include LSU, Georgetown and Texas. And while Kentucky is favored to win the entire tournament, it loses in the Elite Eight in the fashion bracket. Other big-name public universities make it as far as the Wildcats: Ohio State, UCLA and LSU. Notice that Texas and UCLA are two schools that many experts felt shouldn't have even been selected for the tournament. Some believed that they were selected partly because of the schools' past history, large alumni base, and big-market appeal for TV ratings. Their high finishes in the Polyvore bracket would be another datapoint reflecting such a possible bias.

Obviously this type of information doesn't have any bearing on the outcome of the games, but it does suggest how retailers—and the schools themselves—can take advantage of the opportunity. So much of college sports is about selling gear to fans, students, graduates and people who are possibly trying too hard to look cool.

It would appear that Harvard's dominance in the rankings comes not just from alumni. "We think we can attribute Harvard's popularity to the popular fashion blogger The Blonde Salad, " said Polyvore's Kym Lino. "Harvard Business School recently included her success in a marketing course. It's the first case study that Harvard has done on a blogger."

Looking at the Elite Eight schools, "the majority are either based in a major metro or are perennial favorites in the sports world," Lino noted. "These factors combined could plausibly lead to more people attending games and wanting to figure out how to don their favorite college T-shirt or hoodie."