Seed distributions for the NCAA men's basketball tournament

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)719-724
Number of pages6
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Bracketology
  • Geometric distribution
  • March Madness
  • NCAA basketball
  • Tournament seeds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Information Systems and Management


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