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Question of the Day
Professor Michael Magazine is upending the logical world of math with a good dose of March Madness.
Magazine teaches a new class called Bracketology at University of Cincinnati, the home of the 10th-seeded Bearcats, where 33 business students are spending the semester trying to make sense out of what can feel nonsensical at times _ the art of filling out an NCAA tournament bracket.
“The life lesson is that we make a lot of decisions that are the right decisions,” Magazine says, “but the outcomes don’t always come out the way we planned.”
And that’s why picking the NCAA tournament is so much fun.
Magazine says that, yes, he’s among the millions of Americans who take part in the country’s largest office pool _ where all you need is a pen, a copy of the bracket and $10 or $20 to get in on the action.
Real basketball knowledge? That’s optional. Some people pick their favorite mascot, others go based on color, still others just throw darts at a board.
“I always tell people to ignore where they went to school,” Magazine says. “But it’s hard to do.”
He teaches the course with a Cincinnati alum, Paul Bessire, who owns predictionmachine.com, a program that runs thousands of simulations to forecast likely winners of games. Armed with that, along with some mathematical models, Magazine and Bessire hold three sessions _ handicapping, assembling brackets, filling out the brackets and seeing how everyone did.
“It’s a pass-fail class,” Magazine says.
Good thing because when it comes to March Madness, the numbers get a little crazy.
According to the website bookofodds.com, if you fill out your bracket by picking the better-seeded team in every game, the odds of that bracket being perfect are more than 35 billion-1. Or, to put it another way, you have an 18 times better chance of being killed by a waterspout this year.
There are more than 9.2 quintillion combinations (a 9, followed by 18 zeroes), and even if you eliminate all those that have a No. 16 seed winning even a single game _ which has never happened _ you’re still talking about enough paper to build a trail from the Earth to the moon more than 1 million times.
Oh, and about eliminating those No. 16 seeds: Might think twice about that.
This has been the most unpredictable college basketball season anyone can remember, including one stretch where the No. 1 team in The Associated Press Top 25 changed for five straight weeks.
Even in seasons that have seemed more “predictable,” the NCAA tournament has become increasingly unstable over recent years. Butler, enrollment 4,500, has made the Final Four twice in the last three years. In 2011, little-known and even less-heralded VCU transformed itself from a No. 11 seed that barely got into the tournament into a Final Four team. Last year, two No. 15 teams won on the first Friday of the tournament. After the second upset, ESPN reported none of its 6.45 million bracket entries were perfect anymore.
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