Just about everyone has a top “This is March” memory where a well-researched NCAA Tournament bracket, against all odds, disintegrated.
For this writer, it took place on March 20, 2016 in a second-round tilt between Northern Iowa and Texas A&M: The 11-seed Panthers were the pick. They led 69-57 with 44 seconds remaining — a score so secure that this writer doubled down on his selection, declaring to an apartment common room full of college friends that he would chug Burnett’s Vodka straight from the plastic bottle if the Aggies staged a comeback.
The Burnett’s burned. But the red line struck through Northern Iowa’s name burned more.
Picking a perfect March Madness bracket is just about impossible, statistically speaking. Anecdotes of blown leads and improbable upsets due to inopportune, once-per-season slumps give vivid imagery to the randomness of March Madness — and betray careful predictions.
Each year, woulda-coulda-shouldas such as Northern Iowa cause heartbreak.
Here’s a full explanation of why your bracket not only won’t be perfect, but also probably won’t last beyond the opening weekend.
MORE: What is the longest-running perfect March Madness bracket?
What is a perfect bracket and how do I get one?
A perfect March Madness bracket entails picking all 63 games correctly prior to the competition starting. That means correctly picking 32 games in the first round, 16 in the second round, eight in the Sweet 16, four in the Elite Eight, two in the Final Four and, of course, the national championship game.
You will not make a perfect bracket. But there’s no harm in trying.
What are the odds of picking a perfect bracket?
The odds of picking a perfect NCAA Tournament equal the odds of being struck by lightning about 3,428,571 times (assuming you live through all of them).
Why are the odds so long? Because of the number of possible scenarios, as well as the amount of upsets that March Madness is infamous for. There are more than 9 quintillion — that’s “9” followed by 18 zeros — different ways to fill out a March Madness bracket (not a joke).
Still, the odds aren’t quite that long in actuality. For example, due to near-assurances such as No. 1 seeds beating 16-seeds in the first round — except for that one time — mathematicians say actual odds of perfection are around 2.4 trillion.
Has there ever been a perfect bracket before?
A man named Gregg Nigl, however, picked the first 49 games correctly in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, lasting until the Sweet 16 before his Tennessee selection stumbled in overtime against Purdue. His was the best performance on record, though the digital tracking of picks is a recent advancement.
What is the Warren Buffett March Madness Bracket Challenge?
In 2014, Buffett, who has a net worth of almost $80 billion, offered a $1 billion prize to the public for anyone who picked a perfect bracket, knowing that the odds of doing so were exponentially lower than winning the lottery. Since then, he has limited his sweepstakes to people who work for him and eased the challenge to success in the opening two rounds.
Last year, Buffett offered $1 million a year for life for any employee who correctly predicted the first week of NCAA Tournament results. No one did.
Tips for picking a perfect bracket
We’re not sure how else to say it:
Are there any perfect brackets left in 2021?
Until the NCAA Tournament begins, we’re all perfect!
This section will be updated until the last spotless bracket falls.