Information You Need to Know to Help You Build Your Bracket in 2014

Building a bracket is easy.  Building a perfect bracket is effectively impossible, so you are not likely to win the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, sponsored by Quicken Loans and Warren Buffett. That being the case, with 68 teams, there are over 147 quintillion (147 followed by 18 zeroes) possible brackets (if one only considers the 64 teams in the main bracket, the number drops to just over 9 quintillion). That being said, even building a good bracket is challenging.  It is difficult to imagine teams seeded No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 losing early in the tournament, yet they do, with great regularity.  The challenge is deciding which of (and when) these seeds will lose. However, there are some patterns that have consistently emerged to help you avoid a bad bracket.

In the round of 64, the 5-12 upset gets a great deal of attention. In the 29 tournaments from 1985 through 2013, the No. 12 seeds had a 41-75 record. In fact, in 12 of the past 29 tournaments, two or three No. 12 seeds advanced to the round of 32. What gets less attention is the 6-11 upset. In the 29 tournaments from 1985 through 2013, the No. 11 seeds had a 39-77 record. Moreover, in 11 of the past 29 tournaments, two, three, or all four No. 11 seeds advanced to the round of 32. Collectively, an average of 4.45 teams seeded No 11 or lower (worse) advanced to the round of 32. Also, in 21 of the past 29 tournaments, four or more teams seeded No 11 or lower (worse) advanced to the round of 32. However, an average of 1.69 teams seeded No. 13 or lower (worse) have won in this round, so picking one or two such upsets is prudent.

In the round of 32, teams seeded No. 7 and lower continue to advance. In 25 of the past 29 tournaments, two or more of these teams have reached the Sweet Sixteen, with an average of 3.41 of these teams reaching this round. In fact, only once (1995) in the past 29 tournaments has there not been a team seeded No. 7 or lower reaching the Sweet Sixteen. Moreover, an average of 1.51 teams seeded No. 11 or lower reached the Sweet Sixteen, and in 25 of the past 29 tournaments, one or more of these teams reached the Sweet Sixteen. Among highly seeded teams, in 19 of the past 29 tournaments, 8 or fewer teams seeded No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 reached the Sweet Sixteen.

The Final Four draws the most attention. The following table gives the probabilities for the number of No. 1 seeds that reach this round.

P(Zero No. 1) 0.159
P(One No. 1) 0.370
P(Two No. 1) 0.325
P(Three No. 1) 0.127
P(Four No. 1) 0.019

It is over eight times more likely for a Final Four to contain zero No. 1 seeds than it is to contain four No. 1 seeds. Picking one or two No. 1 seeds in the Final Four is prudent.

The odds against one or more No. 16 seeds reaching the Final Four is 679 to 1.

The odds against one or more No. 15 or No. 16 seeds reaching the Final Four is 262 to 1.

The odds against one or more No. 14, No. 15, or No. 16 seeds reaching the Final Four is 133 to 1.

The odds against one or more No. 13 through No. 16 seeds reaching the Final Four is 74 to 1.

The odds against one or more No. 12 through No. 16 seeds reaching the Final Four is 44 to 1.

The odds against one or more No. 11 through No. 16 seeds reaching the Final Four is 26 to 1.  This has happened three times over the past 29 tournaments (1986, 2006, 2011).

The odds against one or more No. 10 through No. 16 seeds reaching the Final Four is 16 to 1. 

The odds against only teams seeded No. 3 or lower (worse) reaching the Final Four is 39 to 1.  This has happened once over the past 29 tournaments (2011).

The odds against only teams seeded No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 reaching the Final Four is 2.17 to 1.  This has happened 11 times over the past 29 tournaments (1989, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009).


Enjoy filling out your bracket and watch the upsets unfold. Let the games begin!

 

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