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Think you’ve got the perfect NCAA basketball bracket, a work of art — or at least serious cogitation — that will not only win the office pool but make you famous forever?
Good luck. Jim Lackritz, a statistician at San Diego State University and associate dean at its College of Business, says the odds of picking every winner in the NCAA tournament is one in “one with a whole lot of zeros.”
How many zeros? Let’s ask him.
So what are the odds of picking all the winners of the 63 games in the tournament?
If you were going to flip a coin for the winner of each game, it would be one out of 10 to the 19th power — it’s basically a trillion times 10 million.
But teams don’t have a 50-50 percent chance of winning each game, right? Some teams are better than others, and they have higher chances of winning.
The problem is that over the course of the tournament there will be upsets. And except for a few games in the first round, you don’t have that many lopsided matchups. The teams won’t have a 90 percent-plus chance of winning later in the tournament. They’ll maybe a 60 or 80 percent chance.
At some point, the upsets balance out the sure things. By the end of the tournament, you have almost as good a chance as doing this randomly as you do by trying to create some strategy or some research analysis to justify your picks.
So does that mean you shouldn’t waste your time obsessing over your bracket choices?
There’s a difference between winning your office pool and predicting all 63 games in a row. In your office pool, you don’t have to do everything right to win.
What if you’re really good and have a record of picking 70 percent of the winners? What are your odds then of getting everything right?
It’s 1.7 out of 10 billion.
What about San Diego State, which is in the tournament? What are its odds of going all the way?
Suppose that their odds of winning each game are 25 percent. They’d have a one-in-4,000 chance.
Would you take those odds?
For a dollar I would. But I’d rather to give it to the athletic program or a charity rather than some bookie.
Going back to the one in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 chance that someone will pick all the winners. Does that number have a name? We were thinking “gazillion.”
I’ve never heard of anything past trillions, although I’m sure the Obama Administration might try to invent a term before our deficit goes up.
(I called Lackritz back after doing some research.) It turns out that number is between a quintillion and a sextillion.
I don’t profess to know everything in the world.
Unlike some people.
What I know is maybe a speck of what’s out there.
Maybe one speck in a sextillion specks?
I hope I’d have that much information.
— RANDY DOTINGA