Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge 2014: Tips for March Madness Tournament

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

CLEVELAND - MARCH 25:  Philanthropist Warren Buffet (C) wears a LeBron James Witness tee-shirt as he cheers for the Cleveland Cavaliers during a game against the Denver Nuggets  March 25, 2007 at The Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2007 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Ever want to try something that's almost literally impossible but costs you absolutely no money? Welcome to the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge.

Founded by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway company and Quicken Loans, the challenge is working in conjunction with Yahoo! Sports to offer $1 billion if someone is able to fill out a perfect NCAA men's tournament bracket. Entrants are afforded only one opportunity—unlike other services, which allow you to fill out multiple brackets—and the number of people who can enter is also capped.

So, if you haven't signed up yet, tough luck. Thank you for the click and have fun being a non-billionaire—sucker.

As for the rest of us, the time to fill out our bracket and obtain our riches has arrived. Only one of us can become the next member of YMCMB, so obviously there's a part of me that hopes every single one of you fail while my obviously brilliant bracket wins out and I blow this popsicle stand to live the rest of my days on a private island.

All Your Bracket Essentials:

Something tells me that won't happen. The odds of filling out a flawless NCAA bracket are roughly one in 9.2 quintillion, per numbers crunched by USA Today's Chris Chase. There are neither 9.2 quintillion people on this planet, nor 9.2 quintillion entries allowed. So I guess I'll stop being selfish and do the thing they actually pay me for (writing about basketball) so that I can pay my light bill this month.

That said, if any of you win $1 billion thanks to any of this advice, reading this column is a contractual agreement in which you agree to give half your winnings to me. (OK, fine, it doesn't. Whatever.)

Anyway, here are some things you should know before attempting to get your Travie McCoy on


Don't Do Anything Crazy with Your Final Four

Recency bias is always a pitfall of filling out brackets. Because Wichita State's run to the Final Four last season as a No. 9 seed is still fresh in peoples' minds, there's a temptation to scour brackets and find a similar Cinderella. In fact, two of the last three tournaments have featured a No. 8 or No. 9 seed reaching the last weekend.

It's critical to remember, those are the anomaly. Not the rule. Going back the last 25 Big Dances, only seven teams seeded worse than No. 5 have reached the Final Four. Twenty-one of those 25 tournaments have featured zero so-called Cinderellas making a deep run.

Further, don't even think about taking a seed lower than No. 3 to win the national championship. Going back to Villanova's run as a No. 8 seed in 1985, just two teams with a seed lower than No. 3 have cut down the nets. One was a fourth-seeded Arizona squad in 1997; the other was Kansas' famous run in 1988 as a No. 6 seed.

Because we're working in an impossible scenario, the only thing you can do is put yourself in the most advantageous mathematical spot. Since expansion to 64 teams in 1985, 11.5 percent of Final Four teams have been seeded lower than No. 5. Only eight teams No. 8 or worse have made the run to the final weekend.

It's certainly a distinct possibility one of those teams will go deep this year. An 11.5 percent success rate is greater than you'd expect when running independent simulation. Finding and picking the correct team that's going to pull it off, though, is an impossible task by itself.


Look Long and Hard at No. 11 and No. 12 Seeds

Among upsets, these are exponentially the most likely to happen in Round 1. Dating back to 1985, 33.6 percent of No. 11 seeds advanced past the first round, and 35.3 percent of No. 12 seeds have pulled off an upset, per Bracket Science

Only three tournaments have gone by (1988, 2000, 2007) without a No. 12 seed advancing. No. 11 seeds have surprisingly been less successful overall, as five tournaments have passed with all four being eliminated.

The odds drop off exponentially from there. Less than a quarter of No. 13 seeds have advanced past the first round, less than 15 percent of No. 14s, only six No. 15s total and zero No. 16 seeds have pulled off the biggest upset of all. In most years, you're at least relatively safe advancing the top four seeds in every bracket through the round of 64.

Selecting which of these teams will actually be able to pull it off the tricky part of the equation, but don't be afraid to have faith—especially with No. 12 seeds. The most famous early-round-upset squads hold a 20-21 record in their round-of-32 games. 


Get Acquainted with Ken Pomeroy

I realize not everyone has time to scour every last metric available on the Internet. There are just too many. If your job doesn't directly involve being knowledgeable about basketball, there's a good chance you couldn't care less about the difference between points per game and points per 100 possessions. 

And, frankly, I don't blame you. People have responsibilities in life. Scouring Synergy Sports' database for Andrew Wiggins' pick-and-roll defensive stats probably isn't making your weekly to-do list. 

Since the whole purpose here is constructing a "perfect" bracket, though, at least get acquainted with some of the great stuff that's easily accessible and publicly available. Ken Pomeroy's website is an advance metrics gold mine for those looking for a better understanding of the game. If you hear an analyst or host mention Pomeroy's name on the telecast, he's doing his job better than his counterparts.

The easiest metrics to understand are the adjusted offense and defensive efficiency rankings. They attempt to rank scoring and scoring defense by measuring them not on a per-game level, but over the course of 100 possessions. Watching games, it's easy to tell certain teams play faster or slower than others. Pace-adjusted numbers normalize those differences to provide a more accurate representation of which teams are actually good or bad on both ends.

Another Pomeroy gem is the luck factor stat. There is more of a complicated formula involved there, as it measures the deviation of a team's winning percentage against their expected winning percentage, using the correlated Gaussian method. You can then multiply the luck factor by number of games played and see how many more or fewer games a team should have won.

"Lucky" teams are more prone to regressions to the mean in March. In other words: Beware of Villanova.


Whatever You Do, Don't Take This Competition Too Seriously

You're not going to win. No one is going to win. Warren Buffett fronting all this money is a fun, cool thing for him to do—with exactly zero repercussions. There is always a team no one saw losing early going down a round before anyone predicted. The No. 12 seed you correctly predicted to advance past a No. 5 might make it all the way to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.

Last season, the top entry on ESPN's bracket challenge had almost the entire West region incorrect. The second-place bracket put too much faith in Butler. Both are really astounding feats in filling out a bracket—but they're still littered with mistakes.

Living and dying by your Billion Dollar Bracket is just going to send you into a drinking spiral before dinnertime Thursday. Take it as seriously as you would an average work pool or competition against friends when filling it out, but put more emotional stock in defeating people you actually know. Plus, if you win all that money, they're just going to be asking you for it anyway.

And who wants to be a billionaire when everyone is just going to be pestering you constantly? Oh, everyone? Right. That's a billion dollars were talking about.

My bad.


Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:


Video Play Button
Videos you might like