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Here’s why your NCAA Tournament bracket simulation is terrible

Our favorite pastime of filling out brackets has been taken away and simulated into oblivion, leaving a third of the Big Ten with national titles*

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most surprising developments after the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled is that no one thought to simulate this year’s bracket. Sure, an official bracket was never released, but there are enough DIY bracketologists – some really good ones, too – that you could make do with some reasonable and informed selections and seedings.

Wouldn’t it be a creative, engaging idea to simulate what might happen in those theoretical brackets, especially in a time when content creators and consumers alike are looking for new, unique content?

It just seems odd that no one has tried that yet.

Puts finger to earpiece, looks down, shakes head somberly.

Looks back up, fumbles with papers. Exhales and stares directly into the camera.

“I’ve just received word that literally everyone with Microsoft Office 2010, a high school diploma and a Twitter account has run an NCAA tournament bracket simulation this March. We’ll have more on this breaking development at the top of the hour.”

Look, in theory, it’s a fun idea.

There will forever be a hole in our hearts and the college basketball history books where the would-be buzzer-beaters and Cinderellas of March 2020 should be. Of course, none of this really matters, at all, in the grand scheme of things, especially now that the U.S. is now officially leading the world in confirmed coronavirus cases.

The New York Times

The thought of getting angry because your Midwestern team got shipped out to Spokane for the first round or because it received a No. 7 seed instead of the No. 5 seed that your favorite bracketologist optimistically predicted just seems silly at this point.

If only those were our biggest worries right now.

But that’s why simulating a hypothetical 2020 NCAA Tournament bracket, either through an old PS2 video game, a random number generator, the flip of a coin or your own handmade formula, almost seems like a mandatory exercise in the college basketball media landscape right now.

It lets your mind escape and wander, wondering what could’ve been.

It’s a good distraction from [gestures vaguely towards the void as your 62-year-old neighbor wearing a face mask and winter gloves speedwalks past your house on a 56-degree day].

They say you can never have too much of a good thing – and at least in theory, bracket simulations are a good thing – but that’s clearly not true because I’ve only seen one NCAA tournament simulation (out of tens, maybe hundreds?) with No. 11 seed Indiana storming to the Elite Eight.

Updates Archie Miller’s wikipedia page to show he’s made two Elite Eights in the last seven years.

Maybe it’s just because the tweets on my timeline (non-coronavirus division) consist of bracket simulation, bracket simulation, source: Yale will host Houston Baptist as part of its 2020-21 schedule, bracket simulation, some rotational offensive tackle you’ve never heard of just signed for $18 million, bracket simulation, source: Army guard David Thompson (1.9 ppg) will transfer with three years of eligibility remaining, bracket simulation, everyone in Tiger King is fucking insane, bracket simulation, but we’re long past the point of oversaturation in the market of bracket simulations.

It’s almost like your girlfriend breaks up with you and you look up a few weeks later and see that she’s somehow now The Bachelorette.

(Oh man, a blogger who uses a dating analogy when talking about sports? Quarantine sure is bringing out the highest level of creativity in this new CQ staff!)

Not only is it over between you two, but now you have to read and think about 30 different hypothetical outcomes for her future – all of them seemingly shitty and empty, superficial and designed to maximize views and debate.

That’s what it’s like trying to keep track of all the different bracket simulations that are going on right now.

(Think I sort of stuck the landing there with that analogy, right?)

So, we’ve seen your NCAA tournament bracket simulations and here’s why they’re terrible:

We get it, you have a KenPom subscription

Oh, BYU made the second weekend in your simulation? How original!

I swear almost every simulation I’ve seen has the Cougars winning at least two games, which, other than their dominant, late-February win over No. 2 Gonzaga, was likely because BYU finished the season at No. 13 on

(KenPom, please don’t dox me.)

BYU made 3s at a higher clip than anyone else in the country (41.9%) and frankly, I was probably going to pencil them into the Sweet 16 of my bracket regardless of their pod.

Maybe I’m just realizing BYU would’ve been the all-too-popular dark-horse pick and the level of uniformity regarding the Cougars in simulated outcomes makes one thing very clear: BYU was just going to lose to a No. 12 seed in the first round, probably in an early-afternoon game on Thursday on the East Coast somewhere.

Congrats on running your simulation until it spit out an outcome that maximized clicks!

Do I think every simulation that didn’t end with Kansas, Dayton, Gonzaga or another frontrunner winning the title was tampered with to produce a surprise winner? Not at all.

But let’s not pretend that someone out there didn’t do that. Can’t say I really blame them, either.

A simulation that spits out Duke as your champion is just going to get you ratio’d on Twitter.

Wisconsin wasn’t going to win the NCAA tournament. (Who’d they beat in the national title game? Oh, No. 6 seed BYU? Well, well, well...)

I’m still not convinced Wisconsin actually won a share of the Big Ten championship this year, so excuse me for needing a moment to believe the Badgers won the national championship in a computer simulation.

Congrats to Ohio State on its national title, too.

I’m sure if you put on some mood lighting, turn off safe search, open that incognito browser and dig deep enough in the darkest, ugliest corners of the Internet – so, Twitter. We’re talking about Twitter – you can probably find a simulation that will tell you that your team would’ve won the 2020 NCAA Tournament. So congrats to you.

Hang that banner, throw a parade and get ready for your title defense next year.

Math is hard

I hope by now you understand the tone of this column.

Computer programs running algorithms of virtual people playing a game where you try to put a bouncing sphere into what used to be a peach basket is one of the dwindling number of things that’s not worth getting real-life angry about.

Sports, even imaginary sports, are fun.

But jokes aside, one legitimate critique of an NCAA tournament simulation is if your simulation doesn’t adhere to the basic bracketing principles. You know, stipulations that make sure two schools from the same conference aren’t going to meet in the first round, say Illinois and Indiana in a hypothetical 7/10 game.

Or those that make sure a No. 1 seed plays a No. 16 seed in the first round, not a No. 10 seed.

Somewhere on the cesspool that is Twitter, I saw a No. 2 seed playing a No. 11 seed in the second round, which is of course, impossible. It’s kind of like when my friend in junior high printed off his NCAA tournament bracket then hand-wrote the four regions in the wrong order, setting up Final Four matchups that were physically unachievable.

If your NCAA tournament simulation has you apologizing to your followers with a screenshot from your notes app because you can’t place 64 teams in a bracket and advance them properly, sorry to break it to you, but your simulation is terrible.

Leave the advanced box scores to Sports Reference

The only thing better – and by better, I mean worse – than a simulated bracket is a simulated bracket with specific box scores and play-by-play updates.

Sure, a theoretical game would obviously need to have theoretical stats and highlights but it takes a special kind of suspended disbelief – somewhere above a 10-year-old who still believes in Santa (but not the Easter Bunny) who’s at WWE Monday Night RAW for the first time (he’s pretty sure it’s not real but he’s not positive) and somewhere below a single 28-year-old who uses corporate PTO to go to Disney World for an adult vacation – to feel real, human emotion after being told, “Hey, Devonte Green went 2-for-9 for five points and missed a wide-open 3 before halftime in my algorithm.”

Unless you’re going to give us actual video of your simulation, like the Reddit March Madness simulation, you can keep your play-by-play updates and advanced box scores.

There’s a reason you were selected as an alternate for the Power of the Pen writing competition two years in a row in junior high. You’re bad at narratives

Wow, that’s an oddly specific subhead, right? That’d be pretty sad if someone was still carrying around that chip on their shoulder years later, after they’ve made a career out of writing yet they still want to prove their eighth-grade English teacher wrong.

Anyway, let’s move on before this gets weird.

An entire fan fiction category of bracket simulations emerged in the last two weeks and they’re still rolling in. I saw a new one pop up a few days ago.

What’s better than a simulated bracket that at least used some level of objectivity and consistency in determining a champion?

How about one in which the author chose the winner of every game.

That’s not a simulation, that’s called filling out a bracket and hundreds of thousands of Americans, if not a million-plus, do it every year.

But not this year.

That’s why these simulations – the good, the inherently flawed and the weird fanfic – exist in the first place.

The content game doesn’t sleep and as long as live sports are on hold, there will be a premium placed on writers who can come up with original story ideas or those who can write with a unique voice – two things we hope to do here at CQ.

That’s what bracket simulations are: a creative idea faced with extreme oversaturation, each computer-generated Round of 32 update reminding us of what could’ve been, what ultimately wasn’t and what we’re left to face, without having the benefit of mindless distraction and escape thanks to two 20-minute halves of the game we love.

Maybe that’s why your NCAA tournament simulations are terrible – well, all of them but this one.