March Mathness: Princeton University Press Bracket Challenge

It’s that time of the year again–March is approaching and so is March Madness. Time to think about how to fill out your NCAA tournament bracket is running out. Whether you plan on competing among friends or you’re going to enter the ESPN tournament challenge with cash prizes at stake, the method you use to fill out your bracket is vital.

Luckily, authors Amy Langville and Carl Meyer have written a great book to help us all improve our odds of choosing this year’s winner. In Who’s #1: The Science of Rating and Ranking, they explain the methods of today’s (and yesterday’s) experts, showing why their strengths and weaknesses depend on the underlying goal, and explaining why and when a given method should be considered. They also try to steer you clear of bracket disaster by describing what can and can’t be expected from the most widely used systems.

The methods described in Who’s #1? really work. In 2008, College of Charleston undergraduates, Neil Goodson and Colin Stephenson, encountered a media storm of attention after using a combination of rating methods to correctly predict the NCAA Tournament outcome. The authors also describe the math behind national sports rankings from Jeff Sagarin and Kenneth Massey.

Here at the Press we’ll be participating in March Madness, or as we call it, “March Mathness,” too.  We will fill out our own brackets and submit them to our ESPN Tournament Challenge group, “March Mathness”. We invite you to play along with us and join our group.  Although we encourage you to use one of the methods from the book, you don’t have to.

In addition to following the ESPN leaderboard, we’ll be checking in with students from seven different schools who fill out their brackets using the mathematical rating methods, intuition, and a variety of home-grown methods. We will be comparing all of the mathematical and non-mathematical methods. Even if you decide not to use math yourself, you’ll be able to see how the algorithm predicted brackets turn out.

Last year’s March Mathness winner, former Davidson College math major, Kelly Davis, created her bracket using the Colley Method (explained in chapter three of Who’s #1) and actually beat several professional sports analysts.

We’re looking forward to an exciting tournament this March and hope you will join us in celebrating math and basketball. We have a great line-up of blog posts, so check back every few days. Order your copy of Who’s #1 today and get ready for Selection Sunday on March 11.


  1. Nick Brand says:

    Response…Yes I agree with your piece but if we could set mathematical formulas and statistical models aside for the moment and just embrace the idea that right now there’s a potentially unknown school, a Cinderella team, poised to upset the tournament favorites in a run for glory – ah, that’s the magic of March Madness!


  1. [...] Start honing your math models. When you have something you like, want to test it against others? Try the Princeton University Press March MATHness pool! For more details see their March Mathness blog. [...]