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What are the odds of picking a perfect bracket for the NCAA Tournament?

Mar 20, 2024, 12:14 PM | Updated: 3:04 pm

A view of the game ball during the second half between the Colorado State Rams and Virginia Cavalie...

A view of the game ball during the second half between the Colorado State Rams and Virginia Cavaliers in the First Four game during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at University of Dayton Arena on March 19, 2024 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — The NCAA Tournament is set to return to the Beehive State as the Delta Center hosts first- and second-round games this Thursday and Saturday.

RELATED: Join KSL Sport’s Bracket Mayhem

Millions are penciling in their picks for the 2024 bracket ahead of Thursday’s opener between Michigan State and Mississippi State, which brings up the question: What are the odds of picking a perfect bracket?

Odds of picking a perfect bracket

Each year, millions of brackets are filled out with some correctly picking the national champion or a few upsets along the way (hello No. 16 Farleigh Dickinson ruining everyone’s bracket last year). But according to the NCAA, no one has gotten a verifiably perfect bracket in the tournament’s history.

If you flipped a coin for each matchup, your odds of a perfect bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 — that 9.2 quintillion.

The NCAA says a group of researchers at the University of Hawaii estimated that there are 7.5 quintillion grains of sand on Earth. If we were to pick one of those at random, and then give you one chance to guess which of the 7.5 quintillion grains of sand on the entire planet was chosen, your odds of getting it correct would be 23% better than picking a perfect bracket by coin flip.

However, you can usually weigh picks based on matchups, with higher seeds more likely to advance against lower seeds. With that factored in, mathematicians estimate the odds are closer to 1 in 120.2 billion.

For example, before No. 16 UMBC’s historic upset of No. 1 Virginia in 2018, it was practically guaranteed that all four No. 1 seeds would win their first game, giving you four automatically correct games to start. FDU’s upset of No. 1 Purdue last year was only the second time a No. 16 seed won a first-round game (150-2), meaning the odds are still in your factor to advance those four teams.

But it’s no guarantee, and those odds shift closer to 50-50 as you move down the matchups. A 2-seed has defeated a 15-seed in each of the last three tournaments, and each of those teams made it to the Sweet 16.

Lower seed records in first-round games:

  • 16-seed vs. 1-seed: 2-150
  • 15-seed vs. 2-seed: 11-141
  • 14-seed vs. 3-seed: 22-130
  • 13-seed vs. 4-seed: 32-120
  • 12-seed vs. 5-seed: 53-99
  • 11-seed vs. 6-seed: 58-94
  • 10-seed vs. 7-seed: 59-92
  • 9-seed vs. 8-seed: 78-74

The NCAA says over the last five years, the average bracket predicted 2/3 of all 32 first-round games corrected. If every person in the United States filled out a unique bracket that was 66.7% accurate, we’d expect to see a perfect bracket 366 years from now.

Things more likely to happen than picking a perfect bracket

While the perfect bracket might be out of reach, two Utahns won ESPN’s bracket challenge in 2021, picking the best men’s and women’s tournament brackets.

When Baylor beat Gonzaga on the men’s side, it put Chris Jacobsen alone at the top of ESPN’s bracket challenge out of 14.7 million entries. Andy Johnson, who lives in Monroe, won the women’s contest after Stanford took down Arizona.

Games in Salt Lake City

  • No. 15 Long Beach State 49ers (21-14) vs. No. 2 Arizona Wildcats (25-8): Noon
  • No. 10 Nevada Wolf Pack (26-7) vs. No. 7 Dayton Flyers (24-7): 2:30 p.m.
  • No. 12 McNeese Cowboys (30-3) vs. No. 5 Gonzaga Bulldogs (25-7): 5:25 p.m.
  • No. 13 Samford Bulldogs (29-5) vs. No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks (22-10): 7:55 p.m.

The winner of Long Beach State vs. Arizona will face the Nevada/Dayton winner on Saturday, while the Kansas/Samford and Gonzaga/McNeese State will face off.

Unfortunately, No. 6 BYU is headed to Omaha, Nebraska, to face No. 11 Duquesne while No. 8 Utah State is off to Indianapolis, Indiana, to face No. 9 TCU.

Read more about the history of the NCAA Tournament in Utah from KSL Sports.

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What are the odds of picking a perfect bracket for the NCAA Tournament?