Experts trying to build perfect March Madness bracket offer tips for choosing your own
March Madness is here, and just about everyone is getting their brackets ready.
Some people are rooting for their home team or their alma maters, but for others, winning the bracket is what's important. Two statisticians weighed in on the best way to choose winners.
The odds of a perfect bracket are one in 120 billion, but Tauhid Zaman and Shawn Chao, both academics who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, even built a computer model that they say is getting closer to beating the odds.
The real secret, Zaman said, is picking your upsets wisely.
"Picking the teams that are going to win that are like the favorites, that will get you an okay bracket. But if you want to win, you gotta pick the upsets. That's the secret sauce," he said.
Zaman and Chao's predictive model uses published rankings as a baseline. Then, diversity parameters make sure that each bracket looks different from prior ones, to avoid repeats. It also adds "noise," injecting a certain amount of chaos into the bracket and making it more likely the model will account for surprising victories or shocking upsets.
The model can churn out about 5,000 different scenarios, Zaman said, something that's "absolutely" impossible to do without an algorithm.
"It would be very difficult ... to do that effectively," Chao said.
If you're not working with sophisticated technology, though, there's still a few things you can keep in mind while formulating your bracket.
Chao recommends keeping an eye on the first round, when there's "typically" about "ten upsets or so."
"Some of the most common upsets are the sixth-ranked team and the 11th-ranked team, where the 11th-ranked team actually beats the sixth-ranked team about 3/7 of the time," Chao said.
Zaman said if you're looking to win big and score points for the bracket challenge run by ESPN, where it's possible to get 320 points per round for a grand total of 1,920 points available, you should focus your energy on those final stages.
"The key is you got to get those final eight, final four, final two and the final one right to get a lot of points," he explained.
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