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Road to a better bracket: Virginia Tech expert points to probability, luck

March 8, 2017

Image of a basketball game at Virginia Tech
When filling out your bracket, better bring along some level of gut instinct and luck.

For fans of March Madness, picking the perfect bracket can be challenging and frustrating. Annually, the college basketball tournament presents a perplexing exercise in knowledge, skill, mathematical probability, and just plain luck.  

Virginia Tech professor Rajesh Bagchi calls on his expertise in marketing analytics, consumer behavior, judgment, and decision-making to provide insight and advice for those looking for an edge filling out a bracket.

His recommendations include:

Understand, seedings are not perfect. It is fine to add your own flavor and instincts to your bracket. However, Bagchi says he wouldn’t predict major upsets, such as the highest seeded team losing to a low ranked team in early rounds.

Big name teams and programs tend to be resilient. They know how to handle tough situations. They also generally play in tournament sites closer to home, which gives them a big advantage. They are more likely to overcome injuries, due to greater bench strength. Pay particular attention to how they performed against other strong teams. 

Use caution when picking with your heart. Your favorite team may be in the tournament but if the teams are mismatched, chances are the higher seeded team will likely win. If the teams are closely seeded, then think carefully.

Best brackets combine knowledge, probability, and luck. Probabilities are limited by the amount of information that we have and are also imperfect because they also can't always predict with certainty how teams and individuals on those teams will perform on any given day. Better to bring along some level of gut instinct and luck! 

Quoting: “There are many factors that affect performance and we will never be able to consider all of them. Even if we did consider all the factors, how important each of these factors are to each team may also vary. So it is impossible to come up with perfect predictions.”

Just to be clear, the odds of actually picking a perfect bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, or 1 in 9.2 quintillion.  

More information on Rajesh Bagchi

To secure a print or broadcast interview with Bagchi, contact Bill Foy by email at fwill55@vt.edu; or by phone at 540-998-0288 or 540-231-8719.

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