Jake Liker Predicts Nearly Perfect NCAA Bracket
When the leaves ripen red, birds all over the country begin to fly south. When the branches are exposed, the bears hibernate for the winter.
With the onset of spring, the birds migrate again, and Jake Liker, a Westwood native, feels the pull of the seasonal rhythms in a fruitless search for perfection. He opens the spreadsheet, taking up arms with a tiny legion of a few hundred college basketball-obsessed people trying to predict the future through months of research.
This is “bracketology”, a niche step before march madness: Try to guess each team’s seeding in the NCAA Hoops Tournament. Liker was one of 229 brackets introduced in 2023 on a site called “project bracketa charming hub where, say, industry professionals and humble actuaries can compete in their predictions.
It’s a useless exercise, said six-year-old veterinarian David Letka. Study all the data you want, but in the end, this practice depends on human opinion. To pure luck. And usually, according to Liker, “Selection Resurrection” is like the frustrating screenings of “Deal or No Deal”—braketologists walk away feeling like they’ve opened a $500,000 case and shout four-letter words at the TV.
“I’ve always joked … ‘what I do helps me stay sane,'” Liker said. “Or just the right amount of insanity.”
So, Liker, an NYU law student on spring break, harbored the lowest hopes as he sat in his living room on Sunday. But when he started comparing his seeding to his spreadsheet, filed 13 minutes before the show, he began to confide in his parents.
“Gaels of Jonah!” he announced.
“At 13th seed, Gaels of Iona.” – Greg Gumbel announced back from TV.
And it’s simple. Saved. going on
Liker didn’t sleep until the sun came up again, scrolling through social media. No one came close to his score of 382 points. At 4:47 a.m. on the bracketing corner of college basketball Twitter, bracketologist Joe Cook-Shughart tweeted, “Looks like someone broke the 380 barrier this year. Congratulations.”
Liker read this and was amazed. He was someone. He broke the barrier. A barrier that no one – not ESPN, not Athletic, not CBS Sports – has ever touched.
A suddenly uptight 24-year-old trying to find his place in the world has become the best braces in the world.
“That was the moment I realized,” Liker said, “maybe I did something special.”
He was silent for a split second. Smiled.
“Special,” he added, “is a relative concept.”
Relatively, in the sense that bracketing is ultimately a tiny practice. Much less than your ten bucks office pool, go for the Horned Frogs because it’s fun, in a March frenzy.
However, it is “both an art and a science,” as Cook-Shugart put it. To accurately predict seeding decisions, painstaking hoop research is necessary. Bracketology, a concept reputedly founded by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, is a devotion shared primarily by three groups: professionals whose fans seek reliable predictions, bloggers who do it for fun, and random guys who have a habit has developed.
Liker somewhere between the second and third groups. He, like everyone else in the groups mentioned, talks about bracketing as a poisonous crush – with love, with agony, with an underlying knowledge of the human condition that entails a frustrating pursuit of the unattainable.
And yet 229 people are fully invested.
“Why do people care about anything in sports?” Kevin Sweeney, a college writer for Sports Illustrated, said when asked why people care about braces. “It’s trivial in the margins, but that’s what you’ll find in the community.”
Liker’s achievement extends to the entire bracketing community: all 67 teams were picked correctly, and 57 seeded perfectly. Never before in over 15 years.
“Take this from a retired braces: it’s insanely hard to do,” Athletic’s Stuart Mandel was quoted as saying in the victory announcement.
Liker rose UCLA hoops a fan, joking that he came home for college spring break solely to watch March Madness games with his family. In high school, he began to wonder if there was a formula for filling in the perfect bracket.
This is wrong. “March Madness” for a reason, he noted. But what if, Liker thought, there was a way to figure out what start off out said madness looked like?
Almost every year since then, in the six weeks leading up to qualifying Sunday, Liker has worked six hours every Monday copying data from 95 teams into painstaking spreadsheets.
“He’s as meticulous as anyone I’ve ever met,” said Sweeney, who worked at radio station Northwestern with Liker.
His strange habit, Liker claimed, had developed to the point where he could describe the profile of most March Madness applicants. Let’s bite.
State of Iowa? 10-11 in Quad 1 and 19-13 overall, he replied. Both are correct.
USC? Three Quad 1 wins, and exactly 50th in a clean ranking, he replied. Both are correct.
Gonzaga? One loss to Quad 3 – you get the idea.
“No one has ever done this to me before,” Liker laughed when asked. “And now I understand how crazy it is.”
A few days later, Liker updated Parentheses Matrix standings countless times, still feeling the spark of magic when he saw his name at the top.
“Thinking to myself, ‘What the hell did I just do?'” Liker said.
In law school, he felt like a duck to water for months among those who planned their lives. It was heavy in a different way, and “a real kick in the teeth” as he put it, lowering his animated voice quietly.
So this bracket was good. Hobby done better like him tweetedthan anyone has done this hobby before.
“Another good reminder for me and my self-doubting mind that maybe I will be okay,” Liker said. “And I know what I’m doing.