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What Are The Chances Of Picking The Winners In The NCAA Tournament?

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Alan Gionet asks a Denverite about the NCAA tournament and guessing who will win the games.

Alan Gionet asks a Denverite about the NCAA tournament and guessing who will win the games.

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DENVER (CBS4) – It’s bracket time. People spend hours looking for the slightest indication of who is better and who is worse.

“I do my gut feeling, I do my secure like picks and sometimes… random,” said one fan.

It’s picking the teams with the best mascot, or the most attractive color scheme. One man conceded to using darts.

There’s really nothing secure about college basketball. Top seeds have been beaten by the lowly. Unheard-of teams have ripped down the records of the mighty. There is, after all, nothing like a Cinderella story is there? That is unless you’ve picked against them.

Benton Cobb, professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Kansas, did the math a few years back. He figured the probability of randomly picking all 32 winners in the first round of the NCAA tournament is one in 4.3 billion.

Of course if you ask at Kansas today, as we did this week, you’ll hear comments like the one we heard from a spokeswoman who joked the probability of a Final Four victory for the number one ranked Kansas was 100 percent.

It’s gut feeling. Chris Hamman of SCA Promotions, a Dallas company that insures contests at sporting events like halftime half-court shots, said she has seen a pretty close record.

“In 2007, a gentleman in a pool got 59 right, which is just four away from 63,” said Hamman.

That’s the best they know of. SCA bets that few will get the outcome right.

“Two years ago, Kansas saved our bacon. We had a deal with a furniture store where they were they were going to rebate $2.5 million worth of furniture if Memphis won the tourney,” said Hamman. “Kansas hit a last second three to save us.”

How long are the odds? We asked Dr. Loren Cobb, a research associate professor in the Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Department at UC Denver.

“Ridiculously big,” was Cobb’s simple answer. “Maybe one in a hundred billion,” of getting them all right said Cobb.

“It depends on how good you are on guessing the individual probabilities. Even if you were 90 percent sure, it still is vanishingly small.”

That’s 90 percent sure of the outcome of a given game. Experts weigh the health of the team, the difficulty of the division, the previous Sweet Sixteen experience, the coach’s record, location of the game. On and on it goes.

Even with all that math and research, you might be better off just taking a stab at it. If you want to take your chances at a big prize, like one gambling site’s $13 million offering for getting the winners all correct, go ahead. Your chances of winning Powerball are thousands of times greater.

“It seems to me that the people who pick using their favorite color or the team mascot do the best in the office pool,” said Hamman.

– Written by Alan Gionet

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