'Bracketologists' Weigh in With March Madness Predictions

Image of basketball and brackets sheet for March Madness

Every March the madness begins — basketball fans pore over team stats, player numbers and online odds in the hope of crafting the perfect bracket. Prof. Tim Chartier, Joseph R. Morton Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Davidson College, specializes in sports analytics and has worked with students over the years to develop ranking methods that help fans edge closer to their elusive goal. 

However, before you get too excited, Chartier offers this bit of realism.

“If you flip a coin on every game, your odds of winning are 1 in 9 quintillion,” he said. “Historically, people are about 70% correct in bracket predictions. This makes your odds of a perfect bracket 1 in 5.7 billion. Suppose the math improves your accuracy to 71%. Then, your odds drop to 1 in 2.3 billion. Not terribly likely, but much more probable.”

In Chartier’s math modeling class, students learn “bracketology,” using ranking methods from which they then produce brackets. For more than a decade, Chartier has worked with students to provide sports analytics services and conduct research, which has led to the creation of the ’Cats Stats student organization and partnerships with college and professional sports teams. Chartier and students are currently working on analytics questions posed by a Major League Baseball team and a NASCAR team.

Alongside supporting college coaches, ’Cats Stats uses sports analytics to train students in data analytics. Alums of the ’Cats Stats program have gone on to work with professional teams, including the Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Braves and New York Jets, and companies, including FanDuel, Microsoft, Uber and Amazon.  

2024 Tournament Predictions

With Selection Sunday in the rearview mirror, Chartier and his students have been busy analyzing March Madness matchups. William Zhu ’25 and Andrew Rice ’24 developed a metric that indicates this could be one of the most unpredictable tournaments in recent years, while Jack Bray ’27 singled out UConn as the national champion. Tyler Yandt ’24 and David Hilton ’24 predict Grand Canyon as the most likely 5-12 upset, which has consistently been among the upsets in the first round of the tournament. 

Want more? Here’s the cheat sheet, but remember — data gives insight, but randomness is why we call it March Madness. And check out Chartier’s ranking methods if you want to try your hand at creating the (almost) perfect bracket.

  • Final Four: UConn, Purdue, Arizona, Nebraska
  • National champion: UConn
  • Who is your most likely 5-12 upset or upsets? Grand Canyon
  • Other first round upsets: Samford, Oregon 
  • Insight on #1 seeds: North Carolina and Houston have difficult paths to the championship.  UNC is playing the early games in Charlotte. 
  • Cinderellas: Nebraska and Michigan State

Explore Mathematics and Computer Science at Davidson

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