You are here: Home>Collections

Madness science: How to pick the perfect bracket--or not

  • The Florida Gators celebrate their 2007 championship.
The Florida Gators celebrate their 2007 championship. (Getty Images file photo )
March 08, 2012|By Tracy Swartz, RedEye

Fact: The Connecticut Huskies won 11 straight games in postseason play before nabbing the NCAA title last year.

Fact: The Duke Blue Devils were ranked ninth in a preseason poll before winning the NCAA title two years ago.

Fact: There is no sure-fire way to predict which team will win the NCAA basketball tournament.

Just ask Tobias Moskowitz, a University of Chicago finance professor and the author of "Scorecasting," which uses data to explain the outcomes of sports matches.

"There's a lot of randomness in the tournament," Moskowitz said. "But there are certain strategies you can do."

Moskowitz said some basketball fans run simulations of the games to determine the winners of matchups. Others pore over a school's strength of schedule and the point differentials in their wins and losses to decide how far the team will go in the tournament.

And then there are those who choose their Final Four teams based on a school's color scheme, location and/or mascot.

For those of you color analysts and once-a-year basketball fans who haven't tuned in to the games this season, RedEye has devised an unscientific guide to picking the tournament winner—just in time for this weekend's Selection Sunday.

This newspaper explored arbitrary patterns that have emerged during the past 10 years of the now-68-team tournament, which has been around since 1939. Prepare to impress your colleagues and friends with facts such as: "Teams with animal mascots have won eight of the past 10 tournaments" and "No. 1 tournament seeds are winners."

Dust off those brackets, Cinderella. It's time to be the bellwether of the ball.


If you're choosing your team based on color, don't be blue. Actually, be blue. Blue—in shades from light to "Carolina" to dark—was the most frequent color of winning teams.

Blue: Eight

White: Six

Blue and white: Five

Orange: Three

Black: One

Crimson: One

Gold: One

Red: One


Good things really do come in threes. In the past 10 years there have been three instances each of a coach with the first name Bill, the first name Jim or the last name Williams rocking the tournament title.


Billy Donovan, Florida, 2006

Billy Donovan, Florida, 2007

Bill Self, Kansas, 2008


Jim Boeheim, Syracuse, 2003

Jim Calhoun, Connecticut, 2004

Jim Calhoun, Connecticut, 2011


Roy Williams, North Carolina, 2005

Roy Williams, North Carolina, 2009

Gary Williams, Maryland, 2002


America is winning the battle of good v. Devil. The Blue Devils of Duke have only one NCAA title in the past 10 years. Animals—from rams to dogs to gators—are leading the pack of winning mascots. Fruit (the Syracuse Orange) is bringing up the rear with one win.


Not surprisingly, No. 1 is No. 1. Teams seeded No. 1 in the tournament have won the title six times in the past 10 years. No. 3-seeded teams have triumphed three times while No. 2-seeded teams have been top banana only once.


The tournament has shown public displays of affection. Only two private universities—Syracuse and Duke—have won a title in the past 10 years. The rest of the champions were public schools.


West is not best in the tournament. The ACC and Big East have dominated the tourney the past 10 years. ACC teams have won four times while Big East teams have triumphed three times. Meanwhile, the SEC has two wins while the Big 12 has one.

2011 Connecticut, Big East

2010 Duke, ACC

2009 North Carolina, ACC

2008 Kansas, Big 12

2007 Florida, SEC

2006 Florida, SEC

2005 North Carolina, ACC

2004 Connecticut, Big East

2003 Syracuse, Big East

2002 Maryland, ACC


Nobody's perfect—especially not tourney winners. In the past 10 years, champions included three teams that entered the tournament with four losses and three teams that entered with five. There also have been two title-winning teams with six losses. One squad, the 2007-08 Kansas team, came into the tourney with three losses while the 2010-11 Connecticut team had nine.


Even the experts get it wrong sometimes. In the past 10 years, three teams—including last year's Connecticut squad—that were not ranked in the top 25 in the Associated Press preseason poll went on to win the NCAA title. Three teams that were No. 1 in the preseason poll won the title while two teams that were ranked No. 4 also won. The 2009-10 Duke squad was ranked ninth while the 2001-02 Maryland team was No. 2 in the preseason. | @tracyswartz

Illinois fighter hoping to break into UFC via FX series

RedEye Chicago Articles