Has anyone ever had a perfect bracket for March Madness? These are the odds

With the 2024 NCAA men’s tournament underway and the women’s tournament set to begin Friday, the chase for the perfect March Madness bracket has also officially begun. While anyone has a chance to get it completely right, odds are 1 in 9.2. quintillion, according to the NCAA. 

In other words, as Tim Chartier, a mathematics and computer science professor at Davidson College in North Carolina, told CBS News, it’s like picking a single second in 297 billion years. “It’s very difficult,” he said. 

As of Thursday afternoon, after only four games, the NCAA estimates only 11% of the men’s tournament brackets remain perfect.

NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament - Practice Day - Brooklyn
The odds of getting a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion, according to the NCAA.

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Has anyone had a perfect bracket?

No, but a neurologist from Columbus, Ohio, named Gregg Nigl had the verified bracket closest to perfection. Back in 2019, he correctly guessed the first 49 games of the men’s tournament until then-No. 3 ranked Purdue defeated No. 2 Tennessee in the Sweet 16 – ending his bid for perfection. 

He told a local newspaper he almost didn’t fill out his bracket because he was home sick hours before the deadline. His record as the longest perfect bracket continues to stand —at least for now. 

Before him, someone picked 39 games to start the tournament correctly in 2017, according to the NCAA. That bid fell apart when Purdue defeated Iowa State. In the 2023 NCAA men’s tournament, it took only 25 games after No. 16-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson University took down No.1 Purdue. 

What are the odds of getting a perfect March Madness bracket? 

The NCAA said the odds of a perfect 63-game bracket can be as high as 1 in 9.2 quintillion. Those odds are in play if every game was a coin flip – or a fair 50/50 shot. The amount of different possible outcomes comes out to exactly 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, according to the NCAA.  

However, you have a better chance of, say, you and your partner each buying one ticket for a Powerball with a billion dollar jackpot and both winning it than a single person producing a perfect bracket, Chartier, the mathematics professor, told CBS News. 

Knowledge of college basketball can tip the scales a bit, as the odds of picking a perfect bracket can be as low as 1 in 128 billion, late DePaul University professor Jeff Bergen said in 2019. 

Factors such as travel and injury and other random acts make the tournament hard to predict, according to Chartier. Additionally, the stakes weighing on student athletes during the tournament can’t be compared to the season. 

“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on some players that were just in high school just a few years ago,” he said. “I don’t care what happens in the season. None of it really kind of matches the dynamics and the pressure in the history that they set with what happens in the tournament.”

Will there ever be a perfect bracket?

Christopher O’Byrne, a lecturer in management information systems at San Diego State University and a college basketball fan, believes a perfect bracket could come if teams followed their “true trajectory” along their seeding positions. O’Byrne told CBS News that one could analyze seeding given out to teams and find some weaknesses there. 

But he’s not optimistic a perfect bracket will ever happen in his lifetime. 

“I hope I live a very long life and have many opportunities or iterations to see a perfect bracket, but I don’t have much faith,” he said. 

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