The Best Combination for March Madness

Two #1s, a #2 and a #3.

No I’m not ordering way too much food at McDonalds, I’m following the prescription for March Madness success outlined by Sheldon Jacobson, a professor computer science at the University of Illinois.

In a new paper coming out soon in the journal Omega, Jacobson has analyzed the distribution of seeds in each of the 64-team NCAA tournaments – which began in 1985 – for the final three rounds of the tournament.  Without taking into account any of the team’s records, schools, travel schedules, star players or coaches, he simply looked at which seeds made it to the Elite Eight, Final Four and Championship Game and discovered that the combination of 1, 1, 2 and 3 is the most likely.

Some other interesting numbers that came out include that the chance of all #1 seeds making it is 0.026, or once every 39 years. Even less likely – obviously – is that all #16 seeds make it. That one comes in at a mind-boggling one in eight hundred trillion, eight thousand times all the stars in the Milky Way. Finally, the most improbably Final Four of all time occurred in 2000, when the seeds of 1, 5, 8 and 8 made it. That’s a 1 in 32,000 chance.

But looking back, that was the beginning of the rise of Florida – the number five seed – and the continued excellence of North Carolina – one of the number eight seeds. The number one seed of Michigan State was an obvious choice, but Wisconsin making it as a number eight seed was pretty damned weird.

But the moral of the story is don’t pick all number one seeds and don’t pick two number eight seeds. Sure, it might happen again, but not for another 30 and 32,000 years, respectively.

Unless you’re in my pool. Then go ahead.

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About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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