Math Madness

Math Madness

March 17, 2013

The NCAA tournament provides a great real-world math learning opportunity for any age. From playing a mini-basketball game in the classroom and adding up the score to calculating how many games a team should win based on their seed and RPI, every classroom can benefit from this math-heavy popular sports event.

To help students interact with the teams, put up a map of the country with pins for each team in the tournament. Have students remove pins as the teams are knocked out.

Thanks to Mark Colgan for the below March Madness math problems and activities.

Shooting Hoops


Work in Groups of four to collect data for the following table.

You will need:

  • a wastebasket,
  • a ping-pong ball,
  • a yardstick, and
  • three distance markers (pens or pencils work well).

Each person takes 5 shots at the basket. For each shot, you may choose to take a 1-pointer (from 5 feet), a 2-pointer (from 10 feet), or a 3-pointer (from 14 feet) in any combination. Record the result of each shot in your table. When finished shooting, record your totals on the overhead or chalkboard with the rest of the class.

shooting hoops table

1. (1-pt) What percentage of 1-pointers were made by our class? How about 2-pointers? 3-pointers?

2. (2-pt) What percentage of overall shots were made by our class?

3. (3-pt) What strategy appears to be the best: shooting all 1-pointers, or all 2-pointers, or all 3-pointers?

March Madness Bracket word problems

(there is a link to answers at the bottom of the page)A. (1-pointer) If there are 64 teams, how many games are played in the entire tournament?

(2-pointer) If they played a double-elimination tournament, how many games would be played?

(3-pointer) If they played a round-robin tournament (each team played every other team), how many games would be played?

B. (1-pointer) How many games must a team win in order to win the championship?

(2-pointer) How many games would a team have to win if there were 256 teams in the tournament?

(3-pointer) If your team is ranked 10th with an RPI of 12, how many games would you expect to win? (this one will need background info on how seeds work and what the RPI is. See “answers” for an overview)

C. (1-pointer) How many of the 64 teams lose their last game?

(2-pointer) How many teams are eliminated after 3 rounds of the tournament?

(3-pointer) What percentage of the 64 teams are left after 4 rounds?

D. (1-pt) If every team has the same probability of winning the championship, what is the probability your team will win?

(2-pt) If the Big Ten gets 7 teams in the tournament, what is the probability that a Big Ten team will win?

(3-pt) If the probability IU will win each game is 1/2, what is the probability IU will win the championship?

Fill out Brackets

And of course, have your students fill out brackets and follow the progress! You can have them choose to follow Men’s or Women’s or both. As the tournament progresses, ask them questions about how they are doing compared to the rest of the class, and to the average. Have them declare a “favorite” team at the beginning of the tournament to follow closely, keeping track of scores and statistics to share.

Here are answers and helpful hints: