March (Math)ness: Teach probability in math to create the perfect tournament bracket


College basketball’s NCAA Tournament has long been called “March Madness” because of the unlikely outcomes in many of its games, improbable upsets by unknown teams, and the general craziness that surrounds the event.

In the week leading up to the Tournament, people all over the world fill out brackets predicting each of the 67 games that will be played. Filling out the bracket can be done in a variety of ways – from diehard basketball fans combining all their knowledge of the game to make their picks, to casual fans choosing winners based on the fearsomeness of team mascots. Who wouldn’t be scared of Sebastian the Ibis, official mascot of the Miami Hurricanes? That bird is straight-up dangerous!

Over the years, though, one thing has become clear: there’s no surefire way to predict exactly how the Tournament will turn out. There are always surprises, like when third-seeded Baylor lost to No. 14 Georgia State in the first round of the 2015 Tournament, or when No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast pulled off a shocking upset over second-seeded Georgetown in 2013.


Because of the randomness of the games, experts calculate the chance of designing a perfect bracket at approximately one in 128 billion. Men’s Fitness compiled a list of other improbable events that are more likely to occur – becoming a professional basketball player, winning the Powerball lottery jackpot, dating a supermodel, getting struck by lightning, and making a hole-in-one in golf. In other words, even if you’ve watched hundreds of hours of college basketball this season, don’t bank on predicting all the Tournament games correctly.


Billionaire Warren Buffet has offered $1 million per year for life to any of his employees who can pick even the first two rounds of the Tournament correctly, a slightly less impressive feat than predicting the whole Tournament. However, it’s safe to say that Buffet probably doesn’t have to worry about anyone winning his challenge.

The long odds of winning an NCAA Tournament bracket pool won’t stop millions of people from trying, though. You can fill out your own bracket here any time after “Selection Sunday” on March 13. Just don’t expect to pick all – or even most – of the games correctly.


Some media may contain mature content. Discretion is advised when viewing with students.

The "AND" and "OR" rule of Probability

Odds of a perfect NCAA Basketball Bracket - DePaul Expert, Professor Jeff Bergen

2015 NCAA Tournament Best Moments - MARCH MADNESS

Best Moments In NCAA Tournament History
Lesson Plan

LEARNING OBJECTIVE: This lesson will teach students how to determine the probabilities of independent events and simultaneous events in the NCAA Tournament. Students will understand that a probability is the mathematical likelihood an event (or events) will occur. Students will use probabilities to determine the likelihood of outcomes in NCAA Tournament games and brackets.

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Lesson tags: college basketball, Eighth, Featured, March Madness, Math, ncaa basketball, Ninth, Probability, Seventh, Sports

Francis Tolan

Francis Tolan Francis is a Special Education and Social Studies teacher in the Bronx, NY. He's a new father but he's not too far from being a child himself. You can find his writing about sports, pop culture, fatherhood, and general nonsense on his blog at