Take a bracketology workshop to get your NCAA picks into shape

The Museum of Mathematics helps you win your (friendly) office pool with a workshop on predicting NCAA tournament winners

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Photograph: c.Miramax/Everett/REX USA; illustration by Andrew Frisicano


The first game of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament tips off March 18, and even if you’re not a D1 athlete or alumnus, there’s a lot at stake for anyone filling out a March Madness bracket. If you want to win your office pool, picking teams based on the sound of their names isn’t going to cut it anymore. Lucky for you, mathematician and Davidson College professor Tim Chartier is hosting a workshop on harnessing the power of numbers to improve your odds. Plan your bracket at the Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) Thursday, March 13 at 7:30pm ($50, marchmathness.momath.org).

The method: Chartier, who has been testing different ranking systems with his students since 2009, uses linear algebra to rate all 68 teams in the Big Dance. On its most basic level, squads are judged on their overall wins and losses, which can be weighted with recent performance, home/away records and other variables. At the workshop, you’ll get the basic formula, which is rooted in middle-school math, as well as some options for tweaking your picks depending on your own theories (like the fact that ’Cuse is definitely going to win). Don’t worry, a computer will deal with the big, scary numbers.

The results: While predicting all 67 games is essentially impossible (none of the 30 million brackets submitted to ESPN over the last 16 years have been flawless), using math can certainly improve your odds. The best that one of Chartier’s students ever ranked was in the 99.9th percentile out of 5 million people, which means only 5,000 brackets beat it. So you might not take Warren Buffett’s $1 billion purse for a perfect sheet, but it should be more than enough to wallop Tim from finance.


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