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Mike Benzie | NCAA.com | March 29, 2019

The longest an NCAA bracket has ever stayed perfect

Exploring the absurd odds of a perfect bracket

The longest streak of correct NCAA tournament bracket picks to start the beloved March Madness tournament now stands at 49, 10 better than the previous tracked record of 39.

An Ohio man correctly predicted the entire 2019 NCAA tournament into the Sweet 16, something we've not seen in years of tracking publicly verifiable online March Madness brackets at all major games.

Before the 2019 NCAA tournament, the longest streak of correct picks we had seen in a March Madness bracket was 39 games, achieved in 2017.

Then Gregg Nigl, of Columbus, shattered that record with his briefly-famous "center road" NCAA tournament bracket in the Capital One NCAA March Madness Bracket Challenge, which correctly predicted the first 49 games of the 2019 tournament before busting in game 50, when 3-seed Purdue beat 2-seed Tennessee 99-94 in overtime of the second game in the Sweet 16.

Nigl, a neuropsychologist from Columbus, Ohio, became the first verified bracket ever to pick through to the Sweet 16 correctly.

With more than three decades of online and paper brackets to sift through (the current format has existed since 1985) and with somewhere between an estimated 60 million to 100 million brackets filled out every year, it's very possible that someone, somewhere has done better. Determining an official record is made even more difficult by the fact that online games only recently have begun comprehensive record-keeping.

We've closely tracked about 20-to-25 million online brackets per year at a half dozen major games since 2016 using public leaderboards in combination with direct reporting and information gathering with those games. Prior to 2016, we've relied on those games' reports as well as online archives to get the best information available.

Until this year, we could find no verified brackets that have been perfect into the Sweet 16 at all. There was a widely reported instance of a bracket that was perfect through two rounds in 2010, but there was no way to verify the bracket’s authenticity. It had been entered in an online game where picks could be altered between rounds according to a Deadspin report at the time.

Gregg Nigl's 2019 NCAA bracket is perfect through the first two rounds. Gregg Nigl's 2019 NCAA bracket is perfect through the first two rounds.

Here's where we stood in each of the previous years:

2018

No perfect NCAA bracket lasted through the first round on Friday night, thanks to the historic 16-1 upset of UMBC over Virginia. Of the millions of brackets we tracked, 25 were perfect through the first 28 games of the tournament, but UMBC's win in game No. 29 knocked all of them out.

2017

We saw an incredible 39 games picked to start the tournament, a number that was the highest recorded until 2019. The record-setting bracket, entered in Yahoo’s bracket game, was the only bracket to make it past 37 games unscathed, and managed to reach 39 straight correct picks before Iowa State fell short of a comeback against Purdue and handed the bracket its first loss of the tournament.

2016

The longest anyone went this year was 25 gamesWith Stephen F. Austin's win over West Virginia on Friday night, the last remaining perfect NCAA tournament bracket busted. A 15-2 upset (Middle Tennessee over Michigan State) made this a tough year for brackets.

2015

This was another top year, as one bracket in the ESPN online bracket game picked the first 34 games correctly, according to a story by ESPN senior writer Darren Rovell. ESPN said in 2016 that its 2015 bracket was the best start to a tournament it had on record in 18 years of its game.

2014 (and before)

Before 2017, the longest perfect bracket streak tracked was 36, according to Yahoo! Sports. In 2014, Brad Binder went 36-for-36 to start the tournamentYahoo! Sports reported that Binder's bracket was the only time it had a perfect bracket go into the second round in its 18-plus years of hosting a game.

***

In 2019's tournament, the relative predictability (top seeds winning) of the NCAA tournament led to an abnormally high number of perfect brackets surviving the first round. We tracked an estimated 25 million brackets from the start, at six major online games, including the Capital One March Madness Bracket Challenge here at NCAA.com. Of those, 15 were perfect after the first 32 games of the tournament.

Saturday trimmed that field a bit more, and in games on NCAA.com, CBS, ESPN, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated and Yahoo!, just two March Madness brackets remained perfect through 40 games heading into Sunday — Nigl's and a bracket at Yahoo.

The brackets disagreed on the fourth game of the day — Texas Tech-Buffalo. When Texas Tech won, that left just Nigl's "center road" bracket as the only perfect March Madness bracket left. Center road survived multiple scares Sunday, including the Tennessee overtime win and Duke's escape over UCF.

And after a runaway Gonzaga victory to start the Sweet 16, the "center road" bracket suffered its first loss, as Purdue beat Tennessee 99-94 in overtime in the 50th game of the tournament. That run of 49 correct games will be very hard to top in the future. Side note, it's the second time in three years that Purdue has busted a record-holding perfect bracket.

The odds of a perfect 63-game NCAA bracket can be as high as 1 in 9.2 quintillion — though those are the perfect bracket odds if every game was a 50-50 coin flip. If you take NCAA men's basketball knowledge into the formula, the odds of picking a perfect a bracket can be as low as 1 in 28 billion, according to the late DePaul professor Jeff Bergen

Bergen estimated if every person on the planet 7.5 billion began filling out a bracket per minute, it would take over 2,000 years to fill out 9.2 quintillion.

- Dan Jepperson, Mike Szahaj and Daniel Wilco contributed to this reporting