For millions of March Madness fans, picking the perfect bracket can be challenging and frustrating. The majority of people watch them go up in smoke in the first round alone. Annually, the college basketball tournament presents a perplexing exercise in knowledge, skill, mathematical probability, and just plain luck.  

Virginia Tech marketing professor Rajesh Bagchi calls on his expertise in marketing analytics, consumer behavior, judgment, and decision-making to provide insight and advice for those looking for an edge filling out a bracket.

His recommendations include:

Understand, seedings are not perfect. It is fine to add your own flavor and instincts to your bracket. However, Bagchi says to also remember that one of the top seeded teams is most likely to win the tournament. Most tournaments have been won by No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 seeded teams, with a majority won by a No. 1 seeded team. While it is unlikely that all four No. 1 seeds will make it to the semi-finals, on average, you can expect at least two of them to make it. So, yes, add your flavor but do not  predict major upsets, such as the highest seeded team losing to a low ranked team in early rounds.

Big name teams and programs tend to be resilient. They know how to handle tough situations. They also generally play in tournament sites closer to home, which gives them a big advantage. They are more likely to overcome injuries, due to greater bench strength. Pay particular attention to how they performed against other strong teams. 

Balanced teams. When in doubt choose teams that are equally strong on offense and defense. A stronger offense usually helps. Pick teams that have stars. The big players come good in big games. 

Use caution when picking with your heart. Your favorite team may be in the tournament but if the teams are mismatched, chances are the higher seeded team will likely win. If the teams are closely seeded, then think carefully.

Best brackets combine knowledge, probability, and luck. Probabilities are limited by the amount of information that we have and are also imperfect because they also can't always predict with certainty how teams and individuals on those teams will perform on any given day. Better to bring along some level of gut instinct and luck! 

Creating the perfect bracket may be more challenging than you think. The odds of it are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 if you were to flip a coin. If you know something about basketball, your odds can increase to 1 in 120.2 billion.

“There are many factors that affect performance and we will never be able to consider all of them. Even if we did consider all the factors, how important each of these factors are to each team may also vary. So it is impossible to come up with perfect predictions,” said Bagchi.

About Bagchi

Rajesh Bagchi is the R.B. Pamplin Professor of Marketing at the Pamplin College of Business, Virginia Tech. Bagchi teaches Marketing Analytics and Marketing Research at the undergraduate level and Judgment and Decision-making at the doctoral level. His specific area of study is to look at how consumers can be nudged into making better decisions for themselves and for societal well-being. His research intersects with several fields, including marketing, psychology, economics, finance, and education. 

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