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Expert: Bracket Seedings Irrelevant After Sweet Sixteen Round

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University of Illinois Professor of Computer Science Sheldon H. Jacobson

"From the Elite Eight round and onward, you might as well pick names out of a hat," says University of Illinois Professor of Computer Science Sheldon Jacobson.

Credit: L. Brian Stauffer / University of Illinois

University of Illinois computer science professor Sheldon Jacobson recently completed a study on the NCAA's men basketball tournament showing that picking the higher-seeded team to beat the lower-seeded team usually only works in the first three rounds of the tournament. Once the tournament reaches the Elite Eight round, a team's seed in the tournament is irrelevant.

"In the Sweet Sixteen round, the rankings still hold—but just barely," he says. Jacobson says the purpose of the study was to see if a team's seeding was a good predictor of how far the team ultimately would go in the tournament. He says the expectation was that higher-seeded teams had greater odds of winning, especially for games in later rounds. However, that did not prove true once the tournament was reduced to eight teams. At that point, "the odds of either team winning is reduced to a coin flip," Jacobson says.

"People often overvalue seedings," Jacobson says. "The best advice is, pay attention to them early in the tournament, but as the tournament gets going, remember that their usefulness as a predictive measure fades."

From University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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