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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | March 28, 2019

Record-breaking perfect bracket busts at game 50 with Purdue's OT win over Tennessee

Exploring the absurd odds of a perfect bracket

After 50 games of the 2019 NCAA tournament, the streak is over. There are no more perfect brackets.

The briefly famous “center road" bracket, which had correctly predicted the first 49 games of March Madness, suffered its first loss in the second game of the Sweet 16 when 3-seed Purdue beat 2-seed Tennessee in overtime.

The bracket was entered in our Capital One NCAA March Madness Bracket Challenge game by 40-year-old neuropsychologist Gregg Nigl, who wasn't even aware of the record-breaking streak until NCAA.com called him Monday, after the second round of the tournament.

Check out our full interview with Nigl here.

Before this year, the longest we had ever seen a bracket go unblemished was 39 straight games, which happened in 2017 (we explain why we're so sure of that number below). Nigl's "center road" bracket shattered that record.

Here's a look at the bracket:

Center Road, the last perfect bracket after 48 games of the NCAA tournament

This is the fourth year that we have tracked tens of millions of brackets from the largest online bracket games across the country, including our Bracket Challenge Game, ESPN, CBS, Yahoo, Fox, and Sports Illustrated, to see when the last perfect bracket busts.

Usually, that tracking ends on Friday, or sometimes — if we're lucky — Saturday. This year it continued until the second Thursday of the tournament, through 50 games.

For reference, if every game were a coin toss, the odds of predicting 49 in a row are 1 in 562,949,953,421,312. So, yeah, this was kinda impressive.

A PERFECT BRACKET: Breaking down the absurd odds of the March Madness dream

When we reached Nigl Monday, he had absolutely no idea that he had a perfect bracket.

"So wait, you’re saying I’m the first person to have ever done this?" Nigl asked when we told him the news. "This is wild. I can't even believe it.

"I had no idea that this was even happening."

Sadly, he was only able to cherish one victory — Gonzaga's win over Florida State in the first game Thursday — before the bracket became like every other one of the millions we tracked: busted.

Read on below for our game-by-game tracker from the start of the tournament to see exactly how we got from tens of millions of brackets to just one, and then none. It was a wild ride.

THE PERFECT NCAA BRACKET TRACKER:

THURSDAY, MARCH 28

  • 10:01 PM: Wow. In one of the best games of the tournament, Tennessee rallied from a double-digit deficit to force overtime against Purdue, but the Boilermakers ran away with the game in overtime. And that was that. Nigl had picked Tennessee, his first incorrect prediction in the 50 games of the tournament. With the loss, Nigl's famous bracket was finally, and forever, imperfect. 
  • 9:18 PM: In the first game since Sunday, Gonzaga held off Florida State for a double-digit win, and Nigl's streak is churning once again. We're at 49 games in a row now.
  • 6:04 PM: Some people, including the Associated Press, have fallen for a fake Twitter account posing as Nigl. Earlier in the week, there was a fake Instagram account as well. We confirmed with Nigl that those are not his accounts. 
  • 5:38 PM: We got word today that Nigl cut his Vermont vacation short to head out to Anaheim and watch his Michigan Wolverines play in the Sweet 16 in person with his son, thanks to Buick.

TUESDAY, MARCH 26

  • 4:38 PM: NCAA.com's Andy Katz caught up with Nigl for a Skype interview to break down his upset picks:
    Gregg Nigl talks about his perfect bracket and predictions ahead of the Sweet 16

MONDAY, MARCH 25

  • 9:05 PM: We found the man behind "center road": 40-year-old neuropsychologist Gregg Nigl. Nigl hadn't been tracking the bracket himself, and had no idea that it was perfect until we called him. Read our full interview with Nigl here.

SUNDAY, MARCH 24

Recap: What a day. We started the day with just two perfect brackets left. They had the exact same predictions aside from one: Texas Tech vs. Buffalo. "center road", the bracket in our Bracket Challenge Game, correctly predicted the Red Raiders, and thus became the last perfect bracket left. Four games later, after Oregon beat UC Irvine, "center road" was still a flawless 48-for-48, a ridiculous feat. The tournament starts again Thursday with the Sweet 16. How long can "center road" survive? The unthinkable, a complete 63-for-63, is just 15 games away now. Stay tuned.

  • 11:43 PM: UC Irvine went on a 14-0 run to take the lead against Oregon in the second half, but the Ducks went on a tear late, and ran away for a double-digit win. With that game, "Center Road" became the first bracket ever to pick 48 straight games, staying perfect through to the Sweet 16.
  • 11:06 PM: Ohio State kept it close against Houston for the first half, but the Cougars pulled out the win to advance to the Sweet 16 and advance "center road" to 47 correct picks in a row.
  • 9:57 PM: 1-seed Virginia had a much easier time in the second round, knocking off 9-seed Oklahoma. "Center Road" called that one too. We're at 46 correct picks now.
  • 9:09 PM: 4-seed Virginia Tech held off 12-seed Liberty, just as "center road" predicted. The bracket is still perfect through 45 games.
  • 8:28 PM: And then there was one. Texas Tech blew out 6-seed Buffalo, which was the only game today that the two brackets differed on. With that result, Yahoo's "Court Stormers" bows out of the race, leaving "center road" as the last perfect bracket in the world. Four more games to go before the Sweet 16.
  • 7:34 PM: Wow. In perhaps the best game of the tournament, 1-seed Duke barely survived against 9-seed UCF. As a result, both brackets are still alive through 43 games.
  • 5:05 PM: UNC blew past Washington 81-59 to reach the Sweet 16 and push both brackets to 42 correct picks in a row. Next up, Duke vs. UCF. Both brackets picked the Blue Devils there.
  • 2:41 PM: The two remaining brackets had their scariest moment in a while, as Iowa rallied from a 25-point deficit to force the first overtime of the 2019 tournament. But Tennessee recovered in extra time to take the 83-77 win, and both brackets survived through the first game of the day.
  • 1:20 PM: We added a chart above with each bracket's picks for the rest of the second round. They're looking good to start off, as Tennessee led Iowa by 21 at the half in the first game of the day. They've got the same picks all the way until the 6:10 PM game between Buffalo and Texas Tech. All three of their first picks are the better-seeded team.

SATURDAY, MARCH 23

Recap: Out of tens of millions of brackets entered in online games, two have remained perfect through 40 games. Before this year, the best we'd ever seen was 39 games in a row. Both of the perfect brackets have the same three picks to start Sunday: Tennessee, UNC, and Duke. The first game that they disagree on is the fourth of the day: Buffalo vs. Texas Tech. Will they survive that far? We'll be following them closely to see.

  • 12:01 AM: Auburn could not miss against Kansas, but one of the three remaining brackets did miss that pick. And that concludes Day 3 of the tournament. We've got two perfect brackets left.
  • 10:40 PM: Purdue knocked off the defending national champs in Villanova, which also knocked one more bracket out of the group. But the three perfect brackets that remain have tied our reported record of 39 games in a row. Two of those three have Auburn, one has Kansas. So we'll see at least one of those three survive the night.
  • 10:05 PM: We can safely say that we'll have at least one bracket reach 40 correct picks and stay perfect until tomorrow. Purdue leads Villanova by 30 points in the second half. Three of the last four brackets have the Boilermakers. Of those, two picked Auburn in the final game of the day, and one picked Kansas. 
  • 10:02 PM: 2-seed Michigan State had no problems with 10-seed Minnesota, another game all four brackets agreed on. So we've still got four perfect brackets left through 38 games. That's one away from tying the longest streak we've ever seen.
  • 9:26 PM: Gonzaga cruised past 9-seed Baylor, a result all of the perfect brackets called. Still sitting at four perfect brackets, now through 37 games.
  • 8:09 PM: Two brackets had picked 35 games correctly before incorrectly predicting 12-seed Murray State to beat 4-seed Florida State. That leaves us with four total perfect brackets after 36 games. Zeroing in on the record now.
    • Yahoo: 2
    • BCG: 1
    • ESPN: 1
  • 7:27 PM: All six of the remaining brackets picked 2-seed Michigan to beat 10-seed Florida, and all six were right. No change in the total after this one. 
  • 5:08 PM: Fletcher Magee didn't make a single 3-pointer as Wofford came up just short against Kentucky. Only one of the remaining brackets had the Terriers, so we're down to six perfect brackets now.
    • ESPN: 3
    • Yahoo: 2
    • BCG: 1
  • 2:30 PM: The first game of the second round cut our number of perfect brackets down again, as 3-seed LSU beat 6-seed Maryland with on a last-second shot, 69-67. We're down to just seven now.
    • ESPN: 3
    • Yahoo: 2
    • BCG: 1
    • CBS: 1

FRIDAY, MARCH 22

Recap: We started the 2019 tournament with tens of millions of brackets. After the first day, we were down to approximately 60,000 perfect brackets. Now, through two days and 32 games, there are just 15 perfect brackets remaining across all major bracket games. Saturday sees eight more games, and a chance for some of those 15 brackets to set the record with 40 straight correct picks. We'll keep you posted on the progress of all of them right here. The first matchup of Saturday sees 6-seed Maryland vs. 3-seed LSU at noon, ET. We'll see you then.

  • 12:33 AM: 4-seed Virginia Tech held 13-seed St. Louis at arms-length. That took out two more of our 17 brackets, so we sit at 15 total going into the second round:
    • ESPN: 9
    • Yahoo: 3
    • BCG: 2
    • CBS: 1
    • Sports Illustrated: 0
    • Fox: 0
  • 11:59 PM: 9-seed UCF had no problems with 8-seed VCU, and 11-seed Ohio State upset 6-seed Iowa State. Those games were pretty evenly split among our perfect brackets. After 31 games, we're down to just 17 perfect brackets.
    • ESPN: 9
    • Yahoo: 4
    • CBS: 2
    • BCG: 2
    • Sports Illustrated: 0
    • Fox: 0
  • 11:22 PM: UNC trailed in the first half against 16-seed Iona, but rallied in a big way. Surprisingly, one of the 66 brackets that picked the first 28 games correctly also had Iona winning that matchup. So we're down to 65 total perfect brackets.
  • 10:05 PM: We've got a full tally — 66 perfect brackets left throughout all major online games.
    • ESPN: 48
    • Yahoo: 8
    • CBS: 6
    • BCG: 4
    • SI: 0
    • Fox: 0
  • 9:56 PM: With 28 games under our belt, we can safely say that there are under 100 perfect brackets left among the major online bracket games. At the moment, our Bracket Challenge Game has 4, ESPN has 48, Yahoo has 8, and Sports Illustrated and Fox both have 0. CBS hasn't reported or updated their leaderboard since the 24-game mark (four games ago), but we do know that they have at least a handful of perfect brackets remaining. So realistically, we're looking at somewhere between 60 and 70 perfect brackets left. Four games left tonight.
  • 9:48 PM: Liberty picked up its first-ever NCAA tournament win (the third 12-5 upset of the tournament), and we are under 100 perfect brackets left. 
  • 9:14 PM: Zion Williamson made his NCAA tournament debut as Duke dominated North Dakota State. 3-seed Houston also dealt with 14-seed Georgia State, 84-55. Unsurprisingly, neither of those games had much of an effect on the total number of perfect brackets. We're still looking a couple hundred across all games.
  • 9:06 PM: Yahoo's leaderboard is up to date through 25 games, and only 36 of their 3 million brackets are still perfect.
  • 9:00 PM: 9-seed Washington downed 8-seed Utah State 78-61, which nearly cut our total perfect brackets in half. We're down to 0.001% now.
  • 7:11 PM: ESPN is also down to just 0.002 percent through 24 games. Fox Sports has just two, and Sports Illustrated is tapped out. We likely won't know totals for CBS and Yahoo until they're under 50 each.
  • 6:43 PM: 12-seed Oregon dominated 5-seed Wisconsin in the second half. The number of perfect brackets is getting real slim now. We've got just 0.002 percent at this point. 
  • 6:30 PM: Buffalo held off 11-seed Arizona State, taking us down slightly to just 0.005 percent through 23 games. ESPN reported its first numbers of the day, and they're down to just 0.01 percent. We're closing in, folks.
  • 5:11 PM: Virginia picked up its first win against a 16 seed since 2016 in a comeback over Gardner Webb. Only a couple of our perfect brackets didn't pick the Cavaliers. We're still at 0.008 percent through 22 games.
  • 4:58 PM: Tennessee held off 15-seed Colgate, which skimmed just a couple brackets off the top of our corpus. We're still at 0.008 percent through 21 games.
  • 4:10 PM: 13-seed UC Irvine pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament so far, taking down 4-seed Kansas State . That really did a number on the perfect brackets left. We're down to just 0.008 percent of our millions of brackets.
  • 3:40 PM: Texas Tech took care of the Northern Kentucky Norse, and the needle barely moved. Still at 0.08 percent in our brackets.
  • 2:41 PM: 9-seed Oklahoma throttled 8-seed Ole Miss 95-72, leaving us with 0.08 percent of brackets still perfect through 18 games.
  • 2:29 PM: The first game of Friday — Iowa's comeback win against Cincinnati — cut our group of perfect brackets in half, and we're down to just 0.13 percent after 17 games.
  • 12:19 PM: The first report from Yahoo is in: Only 0.2 percent of their brackets survived the first round. From what we can tell, that's approximately 7,000 perfect brackets on Yahoo.
  • 9:40 AM: ESPN reports that just 0.25 percent brackets remain perfect in their game after the first round of action.

THURSDAY, MARCH 21

Recap: The first game of the 2019 NCAA tournament — 10-seed Minnesota's win over 7-seed Louisville — dropped our total number of perfect brackets from 100 percent to 31 percent. And the number kept falling. 12-seed Murray State's win over 5-seed Marquette culled the field from 12.8 percent to 4.9 percent, and 7-seed Wofford's win over 10-seed Seton Hall saw us fall under 1 percent for the first time. In the end, through the first 16 games of the tournament, we finished with just 0.26 percent of our millions of brackets that remained perfect. Sports Illustrated's main bracket group had just 23 total perfect brackets left, ESPN sat somewhere under 2 percent, and Yahoo and CBS were not reporting any numbers. We'll get a much better idea of the total numbers when we get a few more games under our belt today on Day 2. Stay tuned.

  • 12:12 AM: Purdue beats Old Dominion in the final game of the night, and that leaves us with 0.26 percent.
  • 12:01 AM: Michigan ran through Montana, and Baylor downed Syracuse, which left our number of perfect brackets at just 0.27 percent.
  • 11:53 PM: Wofford saw Fletcher Magee become Division I's all-time leader in 3-pointers as they took down Seton Hall, and we saw our total number of perfect brackets dip under 1 percent for the first time this year. Just 0.77 percent of our brackets are still perfect through 13 games.
  • 9:42 PM: Villanova survived a Saint Mary's scare, but that wasn't too surprising to our perfect bracket corps, which sits at 2.35 percent.
  • 9:38 PM: ESPN reporting that they're down to 2.3% perfect brackets remaining through 10 games. That doesn't include the Gonzaga-Fairleigh Dickinson result, but we can assume that didn't move the needle much.
  • 9:30 PM: Gonzaga blew past 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson, and our brackets barely noticed. We're sitting at 2.85 percent through 11 games.
  • 9:14 PM: Kentucky took down Abilene Christian, while Florida held off a late Nevada run. While BCG users were fairly confident in Kentucky, the Florida-Nevada game was pretty evenly split. As a result, we're down to just 2.86 percent of our brackets that are still perfect.
  • 8:44 PM: The first report from ESPN is in, and they have just 5% perfect brackets left through the first eight games.
  • 6:56 PM: Ja Morant and Murray State pulled off the annual 12-5 upset, and the perfect bracket pool shrank to just 4.9 percent through eight games.
  • 6:24 PM: Kansas had no problem with Northeastern, but the result did have a slight effect. Through seven games, just 12.8 percent of brackets are still perfect.
  • 5:48 PM: Belmont was picked to win in 28 percent of all brackets — more than all 11 seeds other than Ohio State. The Bruins even had the ball with a chance to win at the end of the game, but came up short. That dropped our perfect bracket count to 13.5 percent.
  • 5:23 PM: Michigan State saw flashes of 2016 — when the 2-seed Spartans lost to 15-seed Middle Tennessee — against 15-seed Bradley, but managed to pull out the win. That barely moved the dial on our number of perfect brackets, which now sits at 18.6 percent.
  • 4:25 PM: Florida State took down Vermont, and took our total percentage of perfect brackets down slightly to 18.9 percent through the first four games.
  • 3:55 PM: Auburn barely survived an upset by 12-seed New Mexico State, but 5 percent of our brackets still lost their perfect status. That takes us down to 20.7 percent of all BCG brackets that remain perfect.
  • 2:50 PM: It only took the first two games of the tournament — where 10-seed Minnesota and 3-seed LSU won — to get rid of almost three quarters of our perfect brackets. Only 25.6 percent of brackets remain perfect in our Bracket Challenge Game. We won't be able to track other major games accurately until we get to a smaller number, but we'll keep checking and update this post throughout the tournament.

PAST YEARS

Before 2017, the longest perfect bracket streak we had tracked was 36, according to Yahoo! Sports. In 2014, Brad Binder went 36-for-36 to start the tournament.

In 2016, the longest anyone went was 25 games to start the tournament. That's well below the 2015 tournament's reported (and verified) best, when one person 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. Yahoo! Sports reported last year 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 2017, Yahoo! reported 37 perfect first-round brackets.

So 39 is the record we went with prior to this year. 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, the odds are decent 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 could find no verified brackets that have been perfect into the Sweet 16 (through 48 games) 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.

2018: Last season, no bracket lasted through even the first round, as 16-seed UMBC's historic upset of top-overall seed Virginia busted every bracket that had managed to stay perfect through the first 28 games of the tournament. Before that game, there were 25 brackets that were still perfect, but all picked Virginia to beat UMBC.

2017: The 2017 tournament saw the longest perfect bracket we'd ever seen at the time, which lasted 39 games before getting an incorrect pick. That bracket was the only one across tens of millions of brackets we tracked to make it through 37 games unscathed, but when 5-seed Iowa State lost to 4-seed Purdue 80-76 in the 40th game of the tournament, its perfect run was over.

2016: Three years ago was the shortest run we've seen since we started tracking, when the last perfect bracket lasted just 25 correct picks before 7-seed Wisconsin took down 10-seed Pittsburgh in the first round.

HOW LIKELY IS IT?

So, what are the odds of a perfect bracket? Well, the popular answer is 1 in 9.2 quintillion, a number so unfathomably large that it's practically impossible to fully grasp. But that's assuming that you have 50-50 odds to get every game correct, which is obviously not the case.

In the past eight years, we've actually seen that Bracket Challenge Game users get about two-thirds of all picks correct. Using that percentage, we've calculated the odds of an average user getting a perfect bracket at 1 in 120.2 billion. Not as ridiculous as 1 in 9.2 quintillion, but still pretty slim chances. If you filled out a unique bracket every second of every day, it would take you 3,813 years to fill out 120.2 billion brackets.

Still, this year has as good a chance as any to see the first perfect bracket picked. Stay tuned right here to see if it happens.

*NCAA Digital's Dan Jepperson and Mike Szahaj contributed to the reporting of this article.

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