March Madness. The Big Dance. The annual NCAA basketball tournament goes by many names, and has millions of devoted fans. Every year, basketball prognosticators try to predict the outcome of the tournament. But how likely is it for someone to produce a perfect prediction?

In this lesson, students use probability to discover that it’s basically impossible to correctly predict every game in the tournament. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop people from trying. Students close out the lesson by analyzing geometric and arithmetic sequences commonly used to score March Madness predictions, and discuss what makes a prediction the “best.”

Students will

Calculate the probability of randomly predicting every result in the NCAA tournament correctly

Estimate the probability of creating a perfect bracket given the probability of correctly predicting a single game

In the event that no prediction is perfect, analyze different ways to score predictions to find the “best” one

Discuss the pros and cons of different scoring systems

Before you begin

Students should have some previous exposure to probability concepts. In particular, if A and B are independent events, students should know that P(A and B) = P(A)P(B).

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