March Madness: Analytical Models for NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Brackets

Speaker: Sheldon H. Jacobson
Founder Professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Wednesday, March 20, 2024
5:30 PM to 7:00 PM CDT,  (6:00 PM talk)

Live In-Person Event with hybrid Zoom option

Loyola University, Lake Shore Campus
1032 W Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60660
Dumbach Hall, Room DU-117
Building 16 on campus map
Parking Info or multiple CTA options

Admission: Free, General Admission, open to the public, registration requested.


LIVE Presentation in Chicago
Swag, Snacks, and More for Live Attendees

ACM Distinguished Speaker Program:
Analytical Models for Generating NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Bracket Pools: Injecting Computation into March Madness

Each year, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament attracts popular attention, including bracket challenges where fans seek to pick the winners of the tournament’s games. However, the quantity and unpredictable nature of games suggest a single bracket will likely select some winning teams incorrectly even if created with insightful and sophisticated methods. Hence, a participant may wish to create a pool of brackets that likely contains at least one high-scoring bracket.

We propose several computational models to estimate the probability mass function of all possible tournament outcomes based on past tournament data. Bracket pools are then generated for recent tournaments using these models. The generated brackets are assessed by the ESPN scoring system and compared to those produced by a traditional pick favorite approach as well as the highest scoring brackets in the ESPN Tournament Challenge for various years.

The results suggest that given a sufficiently large pool of brackets, such models are effective in capturing high scoring brackets with high frequency. More information on this and related research can be found at

Sheldon H. Jacobson is a Founder Professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  He holds a B.Sc (Mathematics) from McGill University and a Ph.D. (Operations Research) from Cornell University.   Sheldon research interests focus on using operations research and artificial intelligence to address public sector problems and to inform public policy.  His research on risk-based aviation security provided the foundational concepts that informed the design of TSA Precheck.

His research on computational redistricting demonstrates how optimization-based artificial intelligence can be used to address gerrymandering ( His research on NCAA basketball March Madness analytics is a STEM Learning Laboratory for high school and undergraduate students,, attracting over 800,000 page views since its launch in 2012. 

His research has been reported in the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, and featured on CNBC's Street Signs and The Closing Bell, MSNBC’s Weekends with Alex Witt, Washington Post Radio, CBS This Morning, CBC Canada News, and BBC World News. 

Sheldon has provided services to both government agencies and professional societies.  He has briefed personnel within the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice.  He has served on committees for the National Research Council and the National Academy of Medicine, and led the NSF-Funded workshop, Setting a Broader Impacts Innovation Roadmap. He has served as a NSF Program Director (2012-2014) and as a panelist at the 2019 INFORMS Government & Analytics Summit. 

Sheldon’s research has been recognized with several awards, including the INFORMS Impact Prize, the Aviation Security Research Award (Aviation Security International), and a Guggenheim Fellowship.  He is an elected Fellow of INFORMS, the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)..

(Chicago Central time)

5:30 pm - Networking/Social
6:00 pm - Brief introductions
6:05 pm - Presentation by Sheldon Jacobson
6:45 pm - Q&A
7:00 pm - End

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