Selection Sunday? Seeds? Bracketology?​  March Madness brings with it a whole new vocabulary, puzzling to the uninducted.  Here at Protiviti, we are gearing up for our annual March Madness Challenge, in which team members across the organization compete for a series of high-profile prizes (and more importantly, bragging rights).  With today marking the deadline for bracket submission, we thought it was time to shed some light on the ins and outs of this beloved tournament.  To help us understand the method behind the madness, our very own Indiana Hoosier and senior consultant Kyle Shockley has offered up his knowledge.
Kyle Shockley, Senior Consultant Extraordinaire and Basketball Devotee

1. What is March Madness?

March Madness is the nickname associated with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s always in March, and fans of U.S. collegiate basketball look forward to it all year.

2. What is Selection Sunday?

Before the tournament starts, a committee gets together to choose 68 teams to play in the tournament based on how they’ve done that year. Each team is attributed a seed or ranking of 1-16 and randomly slotted into a bracket based on what kind of seed they’re given.

This process determines the flow of the tournament (or who plays who when), and therefore marks the start of the possible window to make picks (or guess the winners of each game). The brackets lock in advance of the first game, at which point no further changes can be made to picks. ​

3. How do brackets work?

The bracket isn’t unique to March Madness – it’s the same kind of chart that organizes any type of tournament so you can follow the progression.

The March Madness bracket starts with four quadrants – one for each region (West, Midwest, South, and East). The teams in each region are assigned a seed of 1-16, which is a special ranking for the tournament itself. For example, the top team in each region will get the #1 seed. This means there are four #1 seeds – one in each quadrant.

The better seeded teams are expected to beat the lower seeded teams. In fact, no #16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed in the history of the tournament.

4. So should I just pick the best seed every time?

Basic logic would tell us that the better seed should always win, but that’s not always what happens.

Early on, that’s probably a sound strategy – in the first round, no one will pick a #16 seed to beat a #1 seed. But subsequent rounds move to #2 vs. #15, #3 vs. #14 … and once you get to #8 vs. #9, those teams are super similar. At that point, it’s like a coin toss.

5. Is there any other strategy involved? Or is it just luck?

There are definitely components of both. The sports channels have made up a “science” called bracketology, which is basically a huge analysis of who should win. But often it tilts toward luck from the standpoint that we let our biases choose who we would like to win. Usually that doesn’t pan out, and the people who blindly guess end up doing the best.

6. What are the chances I get it 100% right?

In short, it’s nearly impossible.

Last year, Warren Buffet offered a billion dollars to anyone who could guess a perfect bracket. In the beginning, it’s super easy to get all first round teams right. But as the teams get closer, the probabilities compound on each other, and your chances wind up in the millions and millions. You have better chance of winning the lottery than picking a perfect bracket.

7. Any advice for a first-time player?​

  1. Don’t pick a #16 seed to beat a #1 seed! (See questions #3 and #4!)
  2. Kentucky is undefeated, so they’re going to be a super popular choice to win the bracket this year.
  3. Bracket with confidence! Remember, you don’t actually have to be a basketball fan to play. You don’t have to know anything; it just takes two seconds to make a few semi-educated guesses, and you could win!

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