All of us have heard the quote about learning from history to avoid repeating it.
What makes sports predictions more difficult is how often situations seem similar to the past, but really are not. We are lucky with NCAA Tournament brackets. With the exception of play-in games, the format for the 64-team bracket has stayed the same for 28 years – giving us a rich collection of data to learn from.
First round: Pick zero No. 1 or 2 seeds to lose. The 16 seed is 0 for 112, the 15 seeds are 6 for 112.
Pick at least one 13 or 14 seed to win. At least one Top 4 seed has lost in the first round 24 of 28 years. The 13 and 14 seeds combined win just 18% of first round games.
Don’t be shy picking upsets with 12 through 9 seeds. The 12’s have won at least one game 22 of 24 years. The 9’s are four wins above .500 vs. 8 seeds.
Second round: Advance the 1 seeds into the third round unless there’s a very good reason. The 1’s advance 88% of the time to the Sweet 16. Keep advancing any 12’s and 10’s you picked to win in Round 1. Combined they win about half the time in Round 2.
The 12 seeds have the same number of Sweet 16 appearances overall than the 7’s. A double digit seed has made the Sweet Sixteen 26 of 28 years. Pick at least one upset of a 2 or 3 seed. Only once in 28 years has all the top three seeds (1, 2, 3) made the Sweet Sixteen.
Do not pick any seed worse than 12 to win in the second round. Only 7 of 448 teams (1.6%) advancing past Round 2 were seeded worse than 12.
Sweet 16 round: Advance exactly three No. 1 seeds into the Elite 8. Stats show 72% of 1 seeds make the Elite 8 (that’s a higher percentage than the 5 seeds that win a single game!). Advance no team worse than an 11 into the Elite 8. Of those 26 reaching the Sweet 16, only one has ever advanced.
Elite 8 round: Advance exactly one or two No. 1 seeds to the Final Four, which has included exactly one or two 1-seeds 22 of 28 years. Advance no team worse than an 8 to the Final Four. Only 3 of 112 Final Four teams have been seeded worse than 8.
Final Four: Advance none worse than a 6 to the Championship game. Only one has made it in last 27 years. Do NOT advance two No. 1 seeds to Championship game. Since tournament seeding began 34 years ago (1979) only 6 times have two made the finals. Pick a 4-seed or better to win it all. For 24 straight years the champion has been a 4-seed or better!
Even with history guiding us, do not expect perfection. There are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 possible brackets (9.2 quintillion). That’s one million times bigger than 9 trillion.
If everyone on the planet each randomly filled out a bracket, the odds would be over one billion to 1 against any person having a perfect bracket. If one bracket per second was filled out, it would take 292 billion years to fill out all possible brackets (that’s 20 times longer than the universe has existed).
If all the people on earth filled out one bracket per second, it would take over 43 years to fill out every possible bracket. If all possible brackets were stacked on top of each other (on standard paper), the pile would reach from the moon and back over 1.1 million times.
All possible brackets (on standard paper) would weigh 90,000 times more than every man, women, and child on earth combined.
RJ Bell is the founder of Pregame.com - and co-host of FIRST PREVIEW, heard Sunday through Friday night at 11 p.m. on ESPN 1100/98.9 FM. Follow on twitter: @RJinVegas. Discussion of this article continues at Pregame.com. Contact RJ at [email protected]