Just How Hard is Calling a Perfect Bracket?

The March Madness final is quickly approaching, and so far no word is out that no one had a perfect bracket. It’s an occurrence that we all know is very rare. So rare, in fact, that it has never happened before. Picking every game is daunting, but there are only 64 choices… right? So at the end of the day, you’re looking at a 1 in 64 chance of winning.

Not. So. Fast.

Walt Hickey of FiveThrityEight broke down just how difficult it is to pick a perfect bracket. In his analysis, he explains why it’s so hard for us to grasp large numbers when there is no context given to us. Hickey argues that we’re really only capable of fully understanding large numbers sans context when the number is equal to a large number we already have memorized. So Hickey says his upper limit of numerical understanding is 7 billion, because there are 7 billion people on earth.

Having that context can also help us to make somewhat informed decisions or even make us better understand our odds of winning something. This may be why sometimes people play the lottery with reckless abandon. Yes the odds of winning are pretty large, but once we extend beyond our own limit every subsequent number is pretty much the same to us.

So, are you ready to find out how many possible bracket combinations there are in March Madness? Of the 63 games played there are a total of…


Or 9.2 quintillion, if you’re looking for a more bite-sized number to fit in your mouth.

When you factor in the individual probabilities for each of the games played, Hickey argues that your chance of a perfect bracket is 1 in 2.5 trillion. One of the more notable takeaways from the article that you should whip out for discussion at your next party, is that calling just half of the bracket (two regions) holds odds in 2.1 billion. By contrast, your odds of winning the powerball are 1 in 292 million. That means the odds are the same for winning the powerball or calling just one-seventh of half a bracket.

The odds of winning are deceptively, mind-numbingly large. Saying you’ll need some luck on your side is a severe understatement. You’re going to need that Jim Valvano ‘83 Wolfpack magic. Times 77.



Published by: Doug MacFaddin

Douglas Willis MacFaddin was born June 16, 1961 in the Miamisburg Hospital to Patricia Ann MacFaddin and Richard Willis MacFaddin. My mother’s maiden name is Morrison and she is the youngest of seven children who were raised in Lycippus, PA. My father was the second of four children and was a twin. He was raised in the town of Viola, DE. At the time of my birth, my father worked at the Mound Laboratories in Miamisburg, Ohio in research. Mound was an Atomic Energy Commission facility for nuclear weapon research during the Cold War. My mother made a home for our family. My father passed away in 1991 and my mother is currently living in Avon, CT. Doug MacFaddin is the oldest of five children (Doug, R. Stuart, Anne Marie, Megan and Mary (Heather)). I lived in Ohio for two years, spent the next seven years in Murrysville, PA (outside of Pittsburgh), moved to Little Silver, NJ and relocated my senior year in high school to Avon, CT. My four siblings currently live with their families in Avon, CT and are members of St. Ann’s Church. I attended Mother of Sorrows School in Murrysville, PA. In NJ, I attended Little Silver Point Road School, Markham Place School and Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) in Lincroft, NJ for three years. My senior year, I attended Avon High School and I then spent the next four years at Union College, Schenectady, NY. I received a BS in Industrial Economics and graduated in June 1983. While at Salomon Brothers, I was asked to attend a two-week seminar for Public Finance at the University of Michigan in 1986. In Little Silver, I was involved in Troop 126 where I achieved the rank of Life Scout and was both a Patrol Leader and a Senior Patrol Leader. I also was an alter boy at St. James Catholic Church and spent summers a the Ship Ahoy Beach Club in Seabright, NJ and caddying at the Rumson Country Club. At Christian Brothers Academy, I wrestled for the varsity squad for three years. I took second in the districts my junior year and went on to the regionals. I also ran on their cross country team freshman year and was part of the CBA Colt team that hasn’t lost a duel meet since 1973. My senior year at Avon, I won the wrestling States (S). I went on to wrestle at Union College and qualified for the Div III nationals twice (1981, 1982) and was co-captain both years. My senior year at Avon, CT, I also won the States (S) in pole vaulting. It was the first time Avon High School had a state champ in two sports in the same year. During my four years, I earned nine varsity letters between wrestling, track and football. In 1979, I was accepted into The National Honor & Merit Scholars Society. Upon graduating from Union College, I accepted a position at Salomon Brothers Inc in August 1983. I was an analyst in their Public Finance department at One New York Plaza. I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn and spent the next four years working at Salomon Brothers. As a result of Black Monday, October 19, 1987 the Public Finance Department of Salomon Brothers was jettisoned to conserve capital. By November 1, 1987, I was working at Dean Witter Reynolds in the new Public Finance Department made up of many of my former Salomon Brother’s colleagues. The new Department was located on the 57th floor of 2 World Trade Center.

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