How long does it take before a March Madness bracket is broken?

If your March Madness bracket can survive until Happy Hour on Thursday without a loss, consider yourself lucky.

The madness of March is finally here. Printers across the country are working overtime this week serving up brackets, redos of brackets, and redos of redo brackets.

If you’re reading this, you have yet to record a perfect bracket. You probably have never been particularly close either. However, you shouldn’t feel alone because most brackets are in complete shambles just a few hours into the tournament.

March Madness tournament portal
Printable 2021 March Madness bracket
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When you see the first red mark on your bracket come Friday, don’t feel bad! Chances are the rest of your pool has already taken a few Ls as well.

To make sense of the madness, we explored just how quickly March Madness brackets have fallen apart over the past five tournaments. Only a small handful of brackets generally survive the first eight Round of 64 matchups without an incorrect pick.

Bracket info is courtesy of ESPN Tournament Challenge “Who Picked Whom” data. Percentage of remaining perfect brackets is an estimation based on cumulative bracket selections.

2019 March Madness Thursday afternoon window

2018 March Madness Thursday afternoon window

2017 March Madness Thursday afternoon window

2016 March Madness Thursday afternoon window

2015 March Madness Thursday afternoon window


The 2021 NCAA Tournament begins with first-round action on Friday. Here’s a look at the afternoon window (all times Eastern):

March Madness Friday afternoon schedule

  • 12:15 p.m.: No. 7 Florida vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech
  • 12:45 p.m.: No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 14 Colgate
  • 1:15 p.m.: No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 16 Drexel
  • 1:45 p.m.: No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 Utah State
  • 3 p.m.: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts
  • 3:30 p.m.: No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Hartford
  • 4 p.m.: No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech
  • 4:30 p.m.: No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Oregon State

Since 2013, at least one team seeded 11th or worse has won in the tournament’s first eight Round of 64 matchups. Could Utah State, Oregon State, Colgate, Oral Roberts, Hartford or Drexel be next?

Eli Boettger
Eli Boettger

Heat Check CBB founder, editor