Gregg Nigl has the secret to a perfect March Madness bracket: luck — plus, a dose of prep.
Nigl has correctly predicted every 2019 March Madness game thus far, which makes him "an astounding 48-for-48," according to NCAA.com. (The tournament starts up again on Thursday night, when the Sweet 16 round of games tip off across the country, at which point Nigl will try to extend his streak.)
The official website of NCAA championships first revealed Nigl's perfect bracket on Tuesday, noting that he is not only the owner of the sole remaining bracket without any wrong picks. Nigl has also lasted longer into the NCAA Tournament with a pristine record than any other bracket picker the NCAA has ever tracked.
"We've been tracking brackets for years and, before this tournament, the longest streak we'd ever seen was 39 games in a row. That was an incredible feat. This shattered it," NCAA.com wrote about Nigl's success.
There has never been a verified case of someone picking a completely perfect March Madness bracket, according to the NCAA, and the best previous bracket predicted the first 39 games of the 67-game tournament, in 2017.
Even more amazing than the feat itself might be that Nigl himself had no idea his bracket was perfect until NCAA.com tracked him down. "Honestly, when I got this message [from NCAA.com], I thought it was a joke, or a prank or something, you know?" Nigl told the website in an interview.
Nigl also admitted that he almost didn't even fill out the bracket that is currently perfect. He filled out four different brackets overall, but the only that remains perfect was one that he didn't fill out until a few hours before the deadline a week ago, hours before the first March Madness games started.
"I was actually sick on Thursday, and I filled it out Thursday morning, right before the deadline, and I almost didn't do it," Nigl told NCAA.com. "I was lying in bed, I was sick, and I called into work. I almost went back to bed and didn't fill it out, but I did it anyway because I felt bad because it was my friend's [group]."
Nigl adds that, while he's won past bracket pools "a few times at work," he doesn't exactly have "bracketology" down to a science.
"The secret? Watching a lot of Big 10 basketball, catching some of the bigger [NCAA] games like North Carolina-Duke, and then I always watch 'Bracketology' [on ESPN] on Selection Sunday. And, then a lot of luck too," Nigl said in an interview on NBC's "The Today Show" on Thursday.
In addition to listening to college basketball experts' opinions on various matchups, Nigl says he also makes a lot of his bracket decisions based on gut feelings about different teams and coaches. "Honestly, sometimes it's which teams I like better," he tells NCAA.com. "Some cities I like better, some teams I like better, some coaches I like better. I do look at the rankings too. It's a combination of things.
"Don't get me wrong, a bunch of this is luck. I know that. I'm not going to say I knew every matchup by any means," Nigl says.
For instance, Nigl is a fan of the University of Michigan, so he picked that team to make it to the Elite 8 round of the tournament (though, Nigl's bracket also has Michigan eventually losing to Gonzaga, the team he predicts will win the whole tournament).
And in another case, a personal connections to one part of the country helped Nigl pick one of the tournament's biggest early-round upsets: 13th-seeded University of California, Irvine's surprising win over No.4 seed Kansas State last Friday.
"I picked UC Irvine [to win] because we have friends out there and we visited them last summer," Nigl told "Today."
Of course, the likelihood that Nigl's amazing streak will continue beyond the next round of March Madness games is extremely low. The NCAA notes that it is difficult to calculate the odds of a filling out a perfect bracket for the entire tournament, but various estimates put the odds at anywhere from one in 2.4 trillion to one in 9.2 quintillion. That's harder than winning the $750 million Powerball (for which the odds are one in 292.2 million).
But if Nigl was one of the 375,000 people who either work for Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway investment firm, or one of that company's subsidiaries, he would already have a major payday coming. Buffett, the billionaire investor, once again offered his many employees $1 million a year for life if any of them could accurately predict every team in the Sweet 16, as Nigl did.
Nigl could not be reached by CNBC Make It for additional comment by the time of publication.
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