March Madness - Arvig Blog
March_Madness March 7, 2017

March Madness: Advice from a mathlete on picking the best bracket

4 tips for ultimate accuracy

Written by Darla Palmer-Ellingson in Health & Wellness Home

As the Division I NCAA Men’s basketball tournament matchups are announced later this month, sports feeds are flooded with nonstop bracket analysis—the frenzy of March Madness has begun.

You may be scanning the latest articles from Bleacher Report, going through stats on and debating team strengths with your friends, but the best way to pick a winning March Madness bracket may be with math. With 9,233,372,036,854,775,808— over 9 quintillion—ways to fill out a 64-team bracket, a few calculations can help narrow the odds.

Davidson College professor Dr. Tim Chartier has developed a mathematical formula to predict brackets with amazingly accurate results. With quintillions of possible bracket combinations, Chartier’s students have beaten 99.9 percent of competitors in ESPN’s bracket challenge using defined factors and calculations. Chartier coaches that one must first put aside fan emotions and bias towards favorite teams and get down to the numbers.

Here is an outline of how the formula works:

Recency. Chartier says that to make your bracket a winner, you should look beyond a win-loss schedule. How well a team does late in the season, or recency, is a prime factor. Using recency alone can beat out millions of other brackets.

Here is a bit more about the theory:

In a typical win-loss schedule, a game counts as one win and one loss for the respective teams. In Chartier’s method, this is altered to make some games more important than others. For example, the games in the first quarter of the season could be counted as half a win and loss for the respective teams, while in the second quarter the games are counted as 0.75 a game and possibly as high as two for the final quarter of the season. A higher weight rewards team momentum at the end of the season.

Away victories. The tournament will be away, so look at a team’s record on the road.

Winning streaks. A tournament is won by stringing wins together. A team that doesn’t have a five or six game winning streak during the season is not likely to win the tournament.

The toughest competitors. Much of Chartier’s method relies on weighing the strength of each team’s schedule over the course of the season. The calculations factor the strength of each team, theorizing that just because a team has won, that is not as important as if the team has won against a difficult team to beat.

If math is not your thing, don’t worry. The Davidson College website has Chartier’s sports ranking app that will take you through the formula, incorporating 350 values based on the four principals above, and help you create a bracket depending on a few simple choices you input.  You can also play around with different variables, such as how to weigh each game depending on when it was played in the season, and compare results. After just three input screens, the program will return a mathematically-generated BCS-style bracket.

For bracket announcements and a complete schedule of NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship 2017 games, check the official NCAA March Madness website. The site also lists mobile apps for watching games, depending on the type of device and platform you have.