March Madness starts next week, which means that basketball fans across the country are starting to think about their brackets. Experts disagree about the best technique for optimizing your chances of winning big, but most agree on one thing — the odds of getting the perfect bracket are slim.
There are a total of 63 games in a March Madness bracket, each with two potential outcomes. If each team had a fair 50 percent chance of winning a game, basic statistics would suggest that there are 263 — or 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 — possible bracket combinations. If a fan selected a bracket at random, they would have a one in 9.2 quintillian chance of having the perfect one.
Of course, each game is not an equal 50/50 toss up, and few fans select their brackets at random. Some teams have significant competitive advantages including stronger players, better team dynamics and smarter coaches, and some fans have superior insight and more clever analysis.
For instance, if you know that a number one ranked team has never lost to a team ranked 16th in the men's tournament, then your bracket would improve. That's why DePaul University math professor Jeff Bergen says your odds are actually closer to one in 128 billion.
"Now 128 billion is a lot smaller than 9.2 quintillion," says Bergen. "But to put it in perspective how hard this is — if everyone in the entire United States knew something about basketball and filled out a bracket, then there's a less than one-fourth of one percent chance that anyone anywhere in the U.S. would get a perfect bracket."
While not every American will be completing a March Madness bracket this year, many will. ESPN reports that 70 million tournament brackets were completed in 2017. (To put this in perspective, there were approximately 130 million ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election.) Americans wagered an average of $29 on their brackets and collectively fans gambled an estimated $10.4 billion.
Bergen's advice for these millions of March Madness hopefuls is simple: Be smart, and expect to lose. "When your bracket goes down the tubes, don't worry. So is everyone else's," he says.
Check out this infographic created by WalletHub for more March Madness statistics:
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