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# Mathematician Gives Tips On How To Win \$1 Billion On NCAA Basketball

#### samzenpus posted about 6 months ago | from the winning-the-pool dept.

76

Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Jake Simpson reports at The Atlantic that Mathematician Tim Chartier, a Davidson College professor who specializes in ranking methods, teaches a math-heavy form of bracketology — the science of predicting the annual NCAA college basketball tournament at Davidson College in North Carolina. Chartier's academic research is in ranking methods where he looks at things like the page-ranking algorithms of Google. 'In 2009, my collaborator Amy Langville said: "You know what? ESPN has this huge online bracket tournament. Let's create brackets with our ranking methods, just to see if it's creating meaningful information."' Chartier's formula, an evolving code-based matrix that ranks each of the 68 tournament teams, has helped several Davidson students score in the 96th percentile (or higher) in ESPN's bracket challenge and this year, Chartier's goal is to help someone win the \$1 billion prize offered by Warren Buffett to anyone who correctly predicts all 63 games of the men's tournament.

Chartier uses two methods. One is the Colley Method, named after astrophysicist Wesley Colley who developed a method used by the BCS for college football (PDF). His basketball method only counts wins and losses, not margin of victory. The other method is the Massey method created by sports statistician Kenneth Massey (PDF), which does integrate scores. Chartier has not been banned from any office pools — at least none that he knows of. But as a result of coming pretty darn close to filling out a perfect bracket just by crunching the numbers, brackets have become a labor of love. 'Now that the brackets are actually out, I've had students in and out of my office all week, sharing new ideas,' says Chartier. 'For me, that's more fun than filling out a bracket. They will all be filling out brackets, so it's like I'm doing parallel processing. I know what might work, but watching them figure out the odds, is a thrill.'"

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### Two Words (-1)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542097)

Ohio State. Might i add a third: SUCKS!!!!!! oh and.... GO BLUE!!!!!!!!!!

### Re:Two Words (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542177)

+1 Michigan +1 Insightful if you had said Go Sparty

### Re: Two Words (-1)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542283)

Two Words: Jocks Suck!

Slashdot is a centre for nerds. Yeah, we're the people who aren't jabbering over our cubicle wall about spectator sports we watched on TV last night. We mostly weren't jocks in school,either. There are just too many other interesting ways to spend time.

### Re: Two Words (-1)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542807)

Does it feel nice to fit into a neat little stereotype? Personally I prefer to define my own life.

### no straight lines or round circles in creation (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542159)

our struggle begins? as our own worst enemies we begin to enemize each other for lack of better options? momkind unperfect timing of new clear options is in curve with her gracious patience

### well... (5, Insightful)

#### buddyglass (925859) | about 6 months ago | (#46542161)

His predictive ability must not exceed Vegas's by any significant degree or we probably wouldn't be reading about it on slashdot.

### Re:well... (1)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542255)

Vegas doesn't predict. They set the lines/odds so that there is equal money on both sides of a bet.

### Re:well... (2)

#### buddyglass (925859) | about 6 months ago | (#46542291)

When I said "predict" I didn't mean there's actually someone crunching numbers somewhere and coming up with the line. I know how it's set. Nevertheless, Vegas odds can be used as a predictor. They "predict". Ignoring the fact that bracketology is concerned only with wins and losses, nor margins, if this guy were able to predict margins significantly better than "the crowds" (i.e. Vegas odds) then he'd have a license to print money and would likely want to keep it secret.

### Re:well... (1)

#### Joce640k (829181) | about 6 months ago | (#46542853)

Vegas doesn't predict. They set the lines/odds so that there is equal money on both sides of a bet.

"Equal"?

Surely the house always takes a cut...

### Re:well... (1)

#### FunkSoulBrother (140893) | about 6 months ago | (#46543175)

Of course.

Vegas will do something like this.

Florida -4 -110
Louisville +4 -110

What this means is if you want to bet on either Louisville +4 OR Florida -4, you have to risk \$1.10 for each dollar you'd win.

So their goal is to get something like (for example) \$11000 bet on each side, guaranteeing them a \$1000 profit no matter what happens.

### Re:well... (1)

Vegas doesn't predict. They set the lines/odds so that there is equal money on both sides of a bet.

Those two sentences seem to be in contradiction.
(They are also both incorrect, but that's a different and lengthier discussion.)

### Re:well... (1)

#### crunchygranola (1954152) | about 6 months ago | (#46546299)

Vegas doesn't predict. They set the lines/odds so that there is equal money on both sides of a bet.

Those two sentences seem to be in contradiction.

They aren't. Bookmakers aren't predicting at all. What they are doing is assessing what the community of bettors believes to be the even odds point so that (as the OP said) there is even money on both sides, and the bookie picks up the vigorish without any risk. By seeing where the money is going the bookie get immediate, positive feedback on what that point is, and can easily adjust the line accordingly - no guessing involved. It does not matter what he/she thinks the real odds are, if they even care (and they don't).

### Re:well... (1)

#### cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) | about 6 months ago | (#46547027)

As an aside, I kind of like the idea of the bookie as the more or less opposite of crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing - take a bunch of guesses, amalgamate them together, you got a final answer.

Bookie guesses what the crowd will do, and comes up with an answer to that he thinks will split the crowd in roughly 50-50 (with eventual adjustments to keep them closer to 50-50).

### Re:well... (1)

#### FatAlb3rt (533682) | about 6 months ago | (#46544567)

has helped several Davidson students score in the 96th percentile (or higher) in ESPN's bracket challenge

How hard is it to reach the 96th percentile? Let's say you teach this course for 3 yrs with 20 students per course. I think the odds are decent that one of those students would be in the 96th (odd number to choose, don't ya think?) percentile? I'm going with crappy journalism.

### Re:well... (1)

#### stoploss (2842505) | about 6 months ago | (#46545705)

has helped several Davidson students score in the 96th percentile (or higher) in ESPN's bracket challenge

How hard is it to reach the 96th percentile? Let's say you teach this course for 3 yrs with 20 students per course. I think the odds are decent that one of those students would be in the 96th (odd number to choose, don't ya think?) percentile? I'm going with crappy journalism.

My presumption was that the 96th percentile stat was a simplified retcon from "greater than 2 sigma" on a normal distribution.

68-95-99.7 rule [wikipedia.org]

This consideration is orthogonal to the "crappy journalism" assessment. That could still be true.

### Model Worship (5, Interesting)

#### ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | about 6 months ago | (#46542199)

Not everything can be reduced to numbers, factored and condensed down to a single answer or list of probabilites. I'm a methematician and I'm here to tell you that a lot of what is presented as "mathematical" modelling in the modern world is little short of numerology and data massage.

Eventually, if you go deeply enough into these kinds of models, you will forget that there is an actual game of basketball, being played by real human players. The instant that happens, you've become a numerologist and cargo-cult scientist. My opinion is that this is occuring in an increasingly large number of "clever geeks" now equipped with powerful computers and sophormic mathematics.

### Re:Model Worship (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542207)

Not everything can be reduced to numbers, factored and condensed down to a single answer or list of probabilites. I'm a methematician and I'm here to tell you that a lot of what is presented as "mathematical" modelling in the modern world is little short of numerology and data massage.

Eventually, if you go deeply enough into these kinds of models, you will forget that there is an actual game of basketball, being played by real human players. The instant that happens, you've become a numerologist and cargo-cult scientist. My opinion is that this is occuring in an increasingly large number of "clever geeks" now equipped with powerful computers and sophormic mathematics.

Tell that to Nate Silver.

### Re:Model Worship (5, Interesting)

#### Wescotte (732385) | about 6 months ago | (#46542343)

I would argue that professional baseball is ripe for statistical analysis because they play tons of games per season and players have very long careers. College basketball play very few game per year and the players are out after four years no matter what. You probably just don't have enough data to find anything meaningful before the team is comprised of completely new players rendering your data useless.

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46543777)

Also, unlike many professional sports, "events" in a baseball game are far more discrete than any other professional sport. That makes it far more easily analyized by statistics and formulas, where other sports are much more... fuzzy.

### Re:Model Worship (4, Informative)

#### XxtraLarGe (551297) | about 6 months ago | (#46542937)

Tell that to Nate Silver.

Nate Silver is already out of the running. He picked Ohio State [nymag.com] and has them going to the Sweet 16.

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### Collective 0-0009 (1294662) | about 6 months ago | (#46545347)

Which means my algorithm is better than Nate's!

Seriously, rank by a few simple stats such as rebound margin, scoring margin, turnover margin, win/loss, and steals. Notice how scoring margin predicts pretty well who is ahead in the other stats...

Then take the AP poll and RPI. Rank based on that.

Then average the two, "stat rank" and "rank rank".

I have missed the two #12 over #5 upsets. I should have went ahead and picked the 12 seeds based on historical performance of that seed, but that was not part of my algorithm. Looking back it should have been. Maybe next year I get the Billion!

But the reality is that my Dayton pick wouldn't be bragging rights if a single shot was 2 inches to the left. And until someone's algorithm takes into account the predominate direction and angle of air conditioner vents, plus the amount of food each player ate the night before, it's all still based on the completely un-deterministic play of humans.

### Re:Model Worship (2)

#### XxtraLarGe (551297) | about 6 months ago | (#46545409)

I have missed the two #12 over #5 upsets. I should have went ahead and picked the 12 seeds based on historical performance of that seed, but that was not part of my algorithm. Looking back it should have been. Maybe next year I get the Billion!

I have an office pool, and I'm currently 15/16 (though soon to be 15/17 if Mercer pulls the upset). Unfortunately, I decided to get a little cute in the Billion Dollar Brackets and pick WMU to take Syracuse, and Ohio State to beat Dayton. :-/

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### Collective 0-0009 (1294662) | about 6 months ago | (#46546957)

Can't believe Mercer pulled that off! I too for some reason made some different picks in the billion dollar bracket that I probably shouldn't have. Oh well, Mercer screwed us all anyways!

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### NeutronCowboy (896098) | about 6 months ago | (#46544443)

What everybody seems to forget is that Nate Silver did only two things: he assumed that polls were actually somewhere between properly done and improperly done, and weighted them according to his own assessment of the polls' gathering process. Then he crunched the numbers according to basic statistics. Also, people forget that until the day before voting actually took place, he had one state incorrect - I believe it was North Carolina. It was such a close toss-up though that whatever numbers they were crunching and putting up on the site very slowly moved it over into the correct column.

As a result, I'm highly skeptical both of his new venture, which goes far beyond a straightforward data set and proper statistical analysis, and everybody's sudden belief that anything can be predicted, if you just use the right data set. A couple of decades ago, one of the SI sportswriters (Zimmerman) fully predicted the NFL playoffs at the start of the season. He never managed it again, even if he did better than most others. Keep that in mind anytime someone tells you that they have figured out how to predict human nature with statistics.

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542229)

Everything *can* be reduced to numbers.

What we lack is the technology to observe, quantify, and analyse the relevant variables for complex sequences of events like this.

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### olsmeister (1488789) | about 6 months ago | (#46542237)

OK then. Tell me the exact value of the diameter of a circle divided by its radius, in base 10 please.

### Re:Model Worship (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542253)

You should know this being that you are a mathematician.

### Re:Model Worship (5, Funny)

#### mwvdlee (775178) | about 6 months ago | (#46542269)

2

Or did you mean circumference or surface or something else that would require the use of pi?

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### olsmeister (1488789) | about 6 months ago | (#46542311)

Yes, I did. Shouldn't post before coffee!

### Re:Model Worship (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46544155)

Classic "blame it on the coffee" routine.

Zing!

### Re:Model Worship (3, Funny)

#### Hillgiant (916436) | about 6 months ago | (#46543543)

Spooky. That is exactly the ratio of tau to pi.

### Re: Model Worship (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542299)

Everything can be approximated with numbers. But our methods of measuring improve in jumps and starts.

### Re:Model Worship (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542373)

Everything?

Ok what number represents my last sexual experience?

.
.
.
.

Oh, crap, yeah, it's 0....

### Re: Model Worship (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46545235)

Masturbation counts.

### Re:Model Worship (3, Interesting)

#### rmdingler (1955220) | about 6 months ago | (#46542335)

...being played by real human players.

You're right that the human element of any contest cannot be completely quantified. The outcome of every contest cannot be predicted by mathematics, but it is possible to identify trends, predispositions, and characteristics that generate more victories over an elongated number of Contests.

It's more about using numbers to gain an edge, often for good value (another quantifiable datum) in sports, over a larger body of work. The 162 game baseball season has been adeptly exploited by sabremetric gurus like Bill James and Billy Bean. And Vegas sports books continue to make money because they do the math better than anyone else over the long haul.

### Re:Model Worship (2)

#### nabsltd (1313397) | about 6 months ago | (#46543031)

And Vegas sports books continue to make money because they do the math better than anyone else over the long haul.

How is adjusting the odds as people bet to keep the money on both sides as close as possible "doing math better"?

Essentially, it doesn't matter what the starting odds/spread/etc. are...the only thing that matters is adjusting the number as bets are placed so that bets are about even on both sides. Legitimate sports books don't make money by "winning" the bets...they make money by keeping a percentage of every bet, so their goals are to increase the total amount of money bet, while keeping the amount bet on each side about the same (assuming 1:1 payout...with different payout, then they would move the odds based on keeping the total expected payout the same as total intake).

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### Collective 0-0009 (1294662) | about 6 months ago | (#46546981)

Thanks you for bringing this up... Someone mod that guy up!

The only numbers "Vegas" has to come up with are the opening lines... then they adjust as needed. Apparently Denver started as a 3 point favorite for the Super Bowl and it VERY quickly moved to Seattle as the 3 point fav (I could have those backwards).

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### IsThisNickTaken (555227) | about 6 months ago | (#46542559)

"Methmatician" - Is that someone who goes on a Meth binge using the blue crystal cooked by Jesse Pinkman & Walter White and proceeds to try to solve the Riemann Hypothesis?

### Re:Model Worship (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46543181)

Now, that's true of many mathematicians, too. A lot of them are on uppers.

### Re: Model Worship (2)

#### alen (225700) | about 6 months ago | (#46542581)

Most players are about equal which is why it is hard to win half your games. And the teams that win more don't win much more.

Yes there is the human element, but most the game has already been decided and can be predicted

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### lars_stefan_axelsson (236283) | about 6 months ago | (#46542759)

Not everything can be reduced to numbers, factored and condensed down to a single answer or list of probabilites.

Isn't that what people said to John Nash [wikipedia.org] as well?

There are many areas where we can do a lot better than we're doing today, and there are many areas that aren't nearly as difficult as people think. Not that this form of sports is necessarily one of them.

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### Hognoxious (631665) | about 6 months ago | (#46543495)

They might have done. What they should have said was "John, WTF has this got to do with game theory?"

### Re:Model Worship (1)

#### lars_stefan_axelsson (236283) | about 6 months ago | (#46550241)

You mean it doesn't?

### Re:Model Worship (3, Funny)

#### XxtraLarGe (551297) | about 6 months ago | (#46542867)

I'm a methematician

Is that what they're calling cooks these days?

### Re:Model Worship (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46544065)

2^63 = 9223372036854775808.

Due to the unpredictability of random crap, your chance of winning the billion dollars is exactly 1 in 9223372036854775808. If you didn't miss the submission deadline like I did, that is.

### Upsets (1)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542219)

Well there were big upsets in the first few games. How did their model stand up to the the Chaos theory that is the March Madness Bracket?

### Did /. just get spammed with new articles? (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542245)

This morning, there seems a lot of new stuff.
Perhaps there was some old stuff that needed to get pushed out of sight, out of mind.

### Timely (5, Insightful)

#### jeaster (600452) | about 6 months ago | (#46542385)

This would be a great article to read 3 days ago

### jimmy the greek says (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542515)

bet on the team that has the most negros that have been bred to be long and strong in the arm and leg.

won't really help when you're picking cotton but it might help when you're picking NCAA winners.

### Probably Better Than My Method (1)

#### glennrrr (592457) | about 6 months ago | (#46542597)

Of betting against schools with the word 'State' or a compass heading in the name.

### Re:Probably Better Than My Method (1)

#### cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) | about 6 months ago | (#46547135)

So you bet against Michigan State? Good luck with that...

Whats the rule of thumb again? No directional schools (Northeastern Illinois?) or schools with hyphens in them - hyphens indicating the non-primary campus of a University system. Oh, you're University of North Carolina hyphen Charlotte.

Though that rule arguably would break down with UCLA which is more or less a hyphen school yet won a slew of championships and is usually somewhat competitive. Also, USC, which is a directional school, but has had a run or two. Hmm, UNLV? All right, a lot of exceptions...

#### acroyear (5882) | about 6 months ago | (#46542731)

on the #ThankYouDayton game?

#### cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) | about 6 months ago | (#46547169)

... #ThankYouDayton...

I've been lucky enough to go to Dayton for a tournament. It was so loud they disrupted our cheerleaders. Even during off times they were still so loud our cheerleaders couldn't hear the beat to do their routines.

They're freaking nuts about basketball. I wouldn't have necessarily picked them to win over Ohio State, but I'm not too shocked that they did.

### OMG - he made learning "fun" (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46542735)

Burn him at the stake!

### Ob (1)

#### Hognoxious (631665) | about 6 months ago | (#46542769)

bracketology -- the science of predicting the annual NCAA college basketball tournament at Davidson College in North Carolina.

So what do they call it at other places?

### Very timely... (1)

#### XxtraLarGe (551297) | about 6 months ago | (#46542779)

Great to post this now, since the deadline for entering was 3/20/2014 @ 1 AM. :-/

Thank you....

classic slashdot

### 96th percentile? (1)

#### warm_warmer (3029441) | about 6 months ago | (#46543149)

"...has helped several Davidson students score in the 96th percentile (or higher)"

If he had only 25 students, just by random chance I'd expect 1 of them to be in the 96th percentile.

### Percentile! So what? (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46543273)

I'm glad the algorithm helps people score in th e 96th percentail. However, that doesn't even mean it gets 10% of the predictions correct. It just means that it is better then or equal to 96% of the people who make predictions. There is a vast difference.

What is the percentage of correct game predictions for those scoring in the 96th percentile?

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46543279)

"Never bet on anything that talks"

### Easier and more effective strategy (2)

#### Gavagai80 (1275204) | about 6 months ago | (#46543359)

Pick a team from each of the 63 games that you want to bet against. Offer two of their starting players a million dollars each to throw the game. Pocket the other \$874 million.

### I wonder if its even possible b/c of the media (2)

#### PPalmgren (1009823) | about 6 months ago | (#46543365)

The statistical probability is so tiny to get the perfect bracket that even if someone got close to it predicting every game up to the final four, the media frenzy around the 'perfect bracket' might be so insane that the very existence of the almost-perfect bracket could effect the outcome of the game. The players, coaches, announcers, and reporters would know, going into the game, that this team is 'winning' in the pefect bracket. There's the potential it could effect the audience's cheering and the player's mentality: the best way to get someone competitive to play harder is to tell them they can't do it. The effect would be amplified for the final game where the score has to be picked as well.

For time paradox fun, even if you had a future results bracket and brought it back to present, its existence would alter the results.

### Re:I wonder if its even possible b/c of the media (1)

#### Hognoxious (631665) | about 6 months ago | (#46543663)

There's the potential it could effect the audience's cheering and the player's mentality: the best way to get someone competitive to play harder is to tell them they can't do it.

Too subtle. A billion dollars can buy a lot of leaky brake pipes, faulty furnaces and muggings that went wrong. It'd be like an episode of Quincy diagnoses that Columbo is murder to watch or something.

P.S. s/effect/affect

### Re:I wonder if its even possible b/c of the media (1)

#### omtinez (3343547) | about 6 months ago | (#46545419)

Ah, I can tell that you have never been involved with athletes at this level. Their ability to understand such things beyond "favorite" and "underdog" are questionable to say the least.

### 63 games (1)

#### cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) | about 6 months ago | (#46543403)

I never submitted a bracket, partially because I didn't follow the schools this year, partially because I didn't want to get spammed by Quicken - you give a cell number voluntarily to them, now you have a "relationship" where they can call you.

Two random rants as a starting point for discussion.

1) I hate the "bigger than the group of 64" games. You can't even call them play-in games if you have two 11 seeds going at it - they don't need to "play" into the tournament as much as they'd push someone else out.
There used to be some poetry in "63 teams lose their last game, one team goes 6-0 and wins the championship". The current "67 teams lose their last game, one team goes 6-0 and wins the championship, well unless they were a play-in school and they need to go 7-0" is a but more unwieldy.

2) There's so much money generated by the games now, and the players get nothing. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm sure a player filling out a bracket would run afoul of NCAA rules and would have their eligibility threatened. And now there's talk of forcing players to play yet another year at college before going to the pros, delaying by another year when a player can get compensated for the skills that so many are willing to pay for. A good part of this is pressure from the NBA to get more mature players of predictable NBA skill level. I'm not sure that having millionaire/billionaire owners offload their uncertainty onto 18/19 year old freshman/sophomores is all that fair.

### well some with learning disabilities should sue (1)

#### Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 6 months ago | (#46543489)

well some with learning disabilities to the level at that they can't pass classes but is real good at sports should sue the school, the NBA, the NCAA, and others over that. Also there needs to be an minor league system for football and basketball

### Re:well some with learning disabilities should sue (1)

#### FatAlb3rt (533682) | about 6 months ago | (#46544669)

It's not a years of school requirement, it's an age requirement. Someone can go play in other leagues until they reach the minimum age. Turns out that D1 college basketball is the best place (talent pool, visibility, age-specific coaching).

### I have to ask the same I ask the mentalists (1)

#### Opportunist (166417) | about 6 months ago | (#46544431)

Every time some crystal ball expert claims something like this, I ask the same, and just 'cause he wants to "use mathematics" instead of otherworldly inspiration doesn't mean I don't ask the same:

Why would he advise someone else and not rake in the money himself?

### Looks to me like... (0)

#### Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46544875)

incorrect use, of a comma.

#### naughtynaughty (1154069) | about 6 months ago | (#46546781)

To get the bracket perfectly correct you have to pick a large number of improbable upsets correctly as well as all the 50:50 bets and the odds on favorites that prevail. Math is a good way to get in the 96th percentile, it won't predict the Weber St upset over Duke.

### How can you even think... (1)

That the algorithm will say, pick Harvard, Dayton, Standford, Tennessee and Mercer? How is that even possible? Not just one, but all of those teams in the first two days. What will the next two days be like>?

### Re:How can you even think... (1)

#### naughtynaughty (1154069) | about 6 months ago | (#46548359)

Exactly, using algorithms doesn't help. After the first round there are only 16 entries that are correct so far. 16 entries out of the millions who entered managed to get those upsets correct. Will they get the next 16 games correct? Almost certainly not and after two rounds there will be zero correct entries. Math doesn't help predict upsets, it only helps predict the most likely outcomes.

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