Mathmatics behind the Madness

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

SCRANTON -- When it comes to picking the perfect combination from the field of 64, each college basketball fan has a method.

"I usually go with the best teams," said Erik Pulkkinen, Marywood University student.

"Some picks might just be too tough to choose, I might just have to flip a coin,” said Andy Rewrabel, Marywood University student.

At Marywood University, some are more scientific than others and each method a bit crazier than the next.

"Some people who aren`t even sports fans in general will just pick based on the mascot or team name or team color,” said Pulkkinen.

"He likes to pick the teams with the best names and stuff, he`s really funny about it,” said Marywood University student Chris Ortiz.

Dr. Craig Johnson teaches math at Marywood University in Lackawanna County, and said the number of bracket combinations is a bit like the number of ways you could order off a dinner menu.

"There`s no way to say for certain, and that`s what makes it fun," said Dr. Johnson.

Johnson said there are 9.2 quintillion possible combinations. That’s a 9.2 with 18 zeros! Here’s why: For each match-up there are two teams. You multiply that by the number of games per round.

"So that will be two to the 32nd power, ways there can be winners - 32 winners in the first round... Now the second round..." said Johnson.

You add up the exponents, leaving you with two to the 63rd power, and with a quick calculation, you’ll see the odds aren’t exactly in your favor.
Even with all of the odds against them, many basketball fans say they can`t imagine March without this madness, and hope their bracket this year is a slam dunk.

"Better chance at winning the lottery, but you just got to do your best and hope you get the teams that go deep,” said Pulkkinen.

There are a few computer programs that can help you make decisions as well, but still the answers aren’t for certain.

"With things like basketball and sporting events, you know and weather, you simply can`t model every variable plus you, like I said, you can keep varying the inputs to get different outcomes,” said Johnson.

So whether it’s a favorite color, favorite mascot or even flipping a coin, you’ve got a one in a million, I mean billion, actually quintillion chance of getting it all right. And that’s what fans say is half the fun.

"It`s always fun hoping for the best, and I love basketball so it`s a good time during March Madness,” said Matt Tintle, Marywood University student.