March Madness Math Modeling

Whether your favorite team is in the March Madness, this sporting event is full of mathematical modeling. As people excitedly fill in their game brackets, there’s a secret world of math that helps guess who will win and understand the surprises that happen during the games. In this blog post, we’re going to talk about the math that makes March Madness so interesting, looking at the math problems that mix luck and surprises in a fun way.


The Elo rating system and math modeling are like special tools we use to guess who might win in games, such as in chess or big basketball tournaments like March Madness. Let’s see how they work and how they can help us guess who might win in March Madness.

Elo Rating System for Chess

  • What It Is: It’s a way to keep score of how good chess players are. If you win a game, your score goes up, and if you lose, it goes down.
  • How It Works:
    • Starting Score: Every player starts with a certain number of points, maybe 1000 or 1500.
    • Winning and Losing: When you win a game, you get more points. If you beat someone who has a lot of points, you get even more points for winning. But if you lose to someone with fewer points than you, you lose a lot of points.
    • Math Magic: There’s a special math formula that guesses who’s going to win. After the game, they use the result to change your points, depending on if you won or lost.

Math Modeling in March Madness

  • Team Scores: Just like in chess, basketball teams get scores based on how well they’ve played, like how many games they’ve won or how many points they usually score.
  • Guessing Game Results: We use math to guess which basketball team might win, kind of like how the chess system guesses who will win. The team with the higher score is usually expected to win, but sometimes surprises happen!
  • Changing Scores: After each game, teams’ scores change. If a team wins against a really good team, their score goes up a lot. But if they lose to a not-so-good team, their score goes down more.
  • Imagining the Tournament: We can use computers to pretend the tournament happens many times to see which team might win most often. It’s like playing the tournament in a video game over and over to guess the champion.
  • Filling Out Brackets: People use what the math tells them to try and pick the winners of each game. It’s a bit like using a treasure map to find hidden treasure, but instead, you’re trying to guess all the winners.

In both chess and March Madness, we use these special tools to make good guesses about who will win. Even though chess and basketball are very different, the idea of using scores to guess winners is the same.