"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, March 22, 2015

9 Quintillion to 1 for a perfect bracket. By the second game of the second round, no one was left.

DePaul University mathematics professor Jeff Bergen figured out the odds for a perfect NCAA bracket.  A mind boggling 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 1.  That's 9 quintillion, basically a digit with 18 zeros after it.  After only 3 games on Thursday,  CBS had only 0.27% of their brackets from users remained perfect.  ESPN was down .4%.  By night's end on Friday night, only one person in the U.S. out of 11 million brackets still had a perfect bracket.  That was undone when Ohio State lost in the second game on Saturday.

If you wish to watch Dr. Bergen explain how the odds are calculated, please check out this video.

There's nothing like the madness of the NCAA tournament and the crapshoot that it is.  Or is it?   Well, that depends.  We had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Bergen on Monday morning about the NCAA tournament and pose the question if the tournament is a crapshoot or not.

To no one's surprise...it depends.  What is the definition of a crapshoot?  Is it used in context to compare other sports playoff scenarios or literally in terms of equal odds for everyone to win?  

So I asked him...

"It depends upon what you mean by "crapshoot".  There is no team that has a better than 50% of winning (although Kentucky might be pretty close).  For an analogy, think about golf about 15 years ago.  In a major tournament, no player had a better than 50% chance of winning.  But Tiger Woods had a much, much better chance of winning than anyone else. "

"When we (fans) say crapshoot we probably mean that there is no clear favorite and many teams have chance to win.  But it is far, far, far from the case that all teams have an equal shot.  It depends how you define it, there is nothing wrong with either definition."  

I agreed with him.  Certainly a 16 seed, 15 seed, 14 seed are likely to never win the tournament.  By the very nature of the seedings, better seeded teams are supposed to do better unless the committee completely screwed up the seeds.  It is not a random tournament where a 1 could play a 1 in the first round, it is designed to have the top 4 seeds make the Final Four.  Which begs the question why it doesn't happen very often.  As a follow-up question I asked does the one-and-done format lower the odds of the favorites and give more teams a chance to win then say the NBA or other sports playoff formats, sometimes resulting in the best teams not winning the NCAA tournament.  After all, even in years where a #1 wins the tournament, three #1's do not.  There are those years when none of the four #1s even make the Final Four and only one time have all four #1's made the Final Four as their seeding suggested they should.

"I think you nailed it.  There is a huge difference between a  "best 4 of 7"  series and a one-and-done.  For example, there is no way, anybody beats Kentucky in a best 4 of 7.  To do a little math ...Suppose Team A has a 70% of beating Team B in a single games.  So there is a 30% chance of an upset.  But if the same teams played a best 4 out of 7, then Team A now has a better than 87% chance of winning the series.  So the chance of an upset drops from 30% to less than 13% - a significant drop."

I appreciate Dr. Bergen taking the time to answer our questions.  Enjoying the Madness, or as I like to call it...the crapshoot.    Feel free to disagree.

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