Today marks the beginning of March Madness, the annual college basketball tournament, and for those who fill out their brackets each year, it's a day filled with promise. Until the tournament actually starts, your bracket is still perfect. You feel really good about it. Everything is potential.
At least that's how it was described to me by a family member who does it every year. I filled out a bracket for the first time ever last night, drawing on no data or knowledge whatsoever. According to my bracket sherpas, my chances of winning this in this particular pool of family and friends (based on past winners and their systems) is the same or better without knowing anything about the teams, even though many of the people who participate study the statistics around the teams and the tournament every year.
They are like many bracket veterans out there who put a great deal of time and effort into their picks. Filling out a bracket would seem like a perfect union of enjoying college basketball and having fun with statistics and math in an effort to predict outcomes.
Everybody has an angle. Everybody has a system.
My family pool of experts sent me over to Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight for the ultimate rundown of the statistics and predictions around the tournament. Among the many articles about the tournament is this one that points out the odds of filling out a perfect bracket are one in 2 billion (not the oft-quoted one in 9.2 quintillion, which comes from treating all 63 games as coin flips. At AllAnalytics, we all know they're not.)
Over at Forbes, this article throws a bit of shade at FiveThirtyEight for not predicting the Trump election, and runs down how to use social media analytics to fill out your bracket. Forbes points to this video from a few years back from mathematics professor, Jeff Bergen, of DePaul University, again calculating odds of a perfect bracket. Spoilers: your odds are terrible.
"While social analytics might give you an edge, you are going to have to accept the fact that you have as much chance of winning as the cat lady from accounting who picks teams based on the color of their jerseys. Good luck," the article concludes.
(Darn, there goes my bracket strategy!)
The unlikelihood of a perfect bracket is perhaps what is behind investment icon Warren Buffet's March Madness contest for employees. Buffet has announced his second annual March Madness bracket contest for employees. Anyone who picks the Sweet 16 correctly wins $1 million per year for life.
A more promising prediction method, maybe, comes from computer science UCLA undergrad Adit Deshpande in this post about applying machine learning to March Madness. He has Villanova to win with a 64% probability. That's not as strong a probability as Nate Silver's 71% for Clinton winning the election.
Meanwhile, now that you've filled out your bracket, you probably want to follow the games or the results of the games at least. This article offers some guidance about how to watch the tournament if you aren't in front of your home television.
After reading all these recommendations about bracket systems, I'm pretty confident that my system of uninformed choices gives me nearly as good a chance as many other bracket veterans of hitting the perfect bracket. And I think I'm winning in terms of time invested vs. odds of getting that perfect bracket.
But I really want to hear about your system. Did you apply analytics to your bracket choices? What data did you include? Tell us in the comments, and then come back after the tournament and tell us how it worked for you.