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Seed distributions for the NCAA men's basketball tournament


  • Jacobson, Sheldon H.
  • Nikolaev, Alexander G.
  • King, Douglas M.
  • Lee, Adrian J.


Bracketology, the art of successfully picking all the winners in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) annual men's Division I college basketball championship tournament, has become a favorite national activity. In spite of the challenges and uncertainty faced in this endeavor, patterns exist in how the seeds appear in each round, particularly the later rounds. This paper statistically analyzes tournaments from 1985 to 2010, finding that the distribution of seeds that win in the rounds beyond the Sweet Sixteen can be modeled as a truncated geometric random variable. This model allows one to consider any set of seeds in each tournament round and compute the probability that these seeds would win in that round; this methodology can evaluate the likelihood of each seed combination in each tournament round, based on past tournament history. Finally, each tournament from 1985 through 2010 is analyzed using this model to assess its likelihood and measure the probability of its occurrence.

Suggested Citation

  • Jacobson, Sheldon H. & Nikolaev, Alexander G. & King, Douglas M. & Lee, Adrian J., 2011. "Seed distributions for the NCAA men's basketball tournament," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 39(6), pages 719-724, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jomega:v:39:y:2011:i:6:p:719-724

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Baumann Robert & Matheson Victor A. & Howe Cara A., 2010. "Anomalies in Tournament Design: The Madness of March Madness," Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, De Gruyter, vol. 6(2), pages 1-11, April.
    2. Shishebor, Z. & Towhidi, M., 2004. "On the generalization of negative binomial distribution," Statistics & Probability Letters, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 127-133, January.
    3. Koenker, Roger & Bassett Jr., Gilbert W., 2010. "March Madness, Quantile Regression Bracketology, and the Hayek Hypothesis," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 28(1), pages 26-35.
    4. Fearnhead, Paul & Taylor, Benjamin M., 2010. "Calculating Strength of Schedule, and Choosing Teams for March Madness," The American Statistician, American Statistical Association, vol. 64(2), pages 108-115.
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    Cited by:

    1. Karpov, Alexander, 2015. "A theory of knockout tournament seedings," Working Papers 0600, University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics.
    2. Khatibi, Arash & King, Douglas M. & Jacobson, Sheldon H., 2015. "Modeling the winning seed distribution of the NCAA Division I men׳s basketball tournament," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 141-148.


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