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.
“We messed up some brackets! We messed up some brackets!” senior Kyle O’Quinn exclaimed last year after he led 15th-seeded Norfolk to an 86-84 upset over Missouri.
Tom DeRosa, a former algebra teacher who now runs a website that provides teachers with everyday lessons for their own classes, says there is no mathematically surefire way to figure out which 15 or 16 might break through this year. But you can’t completely ignore them, either.
“You look at the numbers and, yeah, it’s a pretty good bet a 1, 2 or 3 seed is going to win the whole tournament,” says DeRosa, whose March Madness lesson is being taught across America this week. “If you’re making a bracket and you don’t have any ‘1’s in the Final Four or anywhere near the Final Four, you’re probably not going to win your pool. But things get a lot more nuanced the more you read. ‘’