When it comes to filling out a March Madness bracket, there’s no such thing as perfection.
“To get a perfect bracket is impossible,” says Sheldon Jacobson, computer science professor at the University of Illinois and self-proclaimed bracketologist. “There are more than nine quintillion bracket combinations—that’s a 9 with 18 zeros.”
Of the 351 Division I college basketball teams, 68 make the cut for this fast-paced, month-long elimination tournament, known for shocking upsets and Cinderella stories. Jacobson goes so far as to suggest you fill out your bracket before the teams are even announced, based solely on seeds, insisting that our biases and emotional attachments to teams cloud our judgment. “It sounds like heresy, but it works,” he insists.
That said, it’s the human element that makes it so fun, and some smart analysis, along with pragmatic seed selection, can make a difference. “It’s true, the difference between a good bracket and a great one is probably luck, since one tiny swing can change everything,” says William Ezekowitz, of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective. “But the difference between a good bracket and a bad one is skill.” Here, using Jacobson’s truly mind-boggling math and a touch of Ezekowitz’s NCAA geekery, is a scientific five-step guide to filling out an office-pool-winning bracket.