Models for generating NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket pools

Ian G. Ludden, Arash Khatibi, Douglas M. King, Sheldon H. Jacobson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Each year, the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament attracts popular attention, including bracket challenges where fans seek to pick the winners of the tournament's games. However, the quantity and unpredictable nature of games suggest a single bracket will likely select some winning teams incorrectly even if created with insightful and sophisticated methods. Hence, rather than focusing on creating a single bracket to perform well, a challenge participant may wish to create a pool of brackets that likely contains at least one high-scoring bracket. This paper proposes a power model to estimate tournament outcome probabilities based on past tournament data. Bracket pools are generated for the 2013-2019 tournaments using six generators, five using the power model and one using the Bradley-Terry model. The generated brackets are assessed by the ESPN scoring system and compared to those produced by a traditional pick favorite approach as well as the highest scoring brackets in the ESPN Tournament Challenge for each year.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Bradley-Terry
  • March madness
  • bracket generation
  • model selection
  • power model
  • sports forecasting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Decision Sciences (miscellaneous)


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