Making picks for brackets is numbers game

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Want to be sure you have the perfect March Madness bracket this year? Not possible.

Guard Rob Brandenberg and Virginia Commonwealth are back in the NCAA Tournament, where they busted many brackets last season en route to the Final Four.  STEVE HELBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
STEVE HELBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Guard Rob Brandenberg and Virginia Commonwealth are back in the NCAA Tournament, where they busted many brackets last season en route to the Final Four.

If you were to stack the amount of paper it would take to fill in every bracket with every possibility among the 68 teams who will play 67 games over the next three weeks, it would not fit inside the universe.

So says Michael Weimer­skirch, a math professor at Augs­burg College who gets paid to think about numbers and the way they affect the Kentuckys, Butlers and Virginia Commonwealths of the world.

But there’s this small glimmer of hope. Weimerskirch says you could simply start flipping coins. The odds of finding perfection that way – by flipping a coin to pick the winner of every game: 1-in-100 million trillion.

“You’re just as likely to win Powerball three consecutive times as you are to picking a perfect bracket by flipping a coin,” Weimerskirch says.

Of course, the NCAA Tour­na­ment is all about making the impossible seem possible. Butler, a school with only 4,000 students, made it to the finals two years in a row. VCU started the tournament last year as a No. 11 seed and wound up playing in the Final Four.

For those setting their sights on winning their office pool, there are ways to improve your odds.

Weimerskirch suggests looking at the number of people in the pool. The more participants, the more you must stray from picking a slate of straight-line favorites.

“It’s one thing to pick favorites to win the whole thing, but you have to know others are picking the favorites to win the whole thing, too,” he said. “So, if you’re in an office pool with 1,000 people in it, you need to do something a little bit unusual.”

He recommends selecting a No. 14 seed to make it to the Sweet 16. Or an 11 to go to the Final Four, a la VCU.

“You need something unusual to go your way,” Weimer­skirch said.

There figures to be plenty of that over the next three weeks, ending April 2 at the Superdome in New Orleans. The games start today, with two first-round matchups: Missis­sippi Valley State vs. Western Kentucky and BYU vs. Iona.

The tournament gets into full swing Thursday and Friday, with 64 teams in action.


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