Ph.D. Candidate Maria Zhu Wins Duke Econ Bracket Challenge

Friday, April 6, 2018
Maria Zhu, Marchinal Madness 2018 Winner

This year’s men’s basketball tournament challenge was a tumultuous one, to say the least. The leaderboard for the Duke Economics Marchinal Madness group experienced more volatility than the stock market, and frontrunners fell out of the top spots as quickly as others rose to take their places. But going into the final game on Monday night, first-time bracket challenger Maria Zhu had already secured her victory with a solid 60-point lead over runner-up La’Qwanda Trice.

“It feels great to be the winner of the bracket challenge! Many people will be surprised to hear this, but I was actually not a sports prodigy in my day,” she said. “Winning the bracket is a huge vicarious athletic achievement, and I will probably be bragging about this victory for the rest of my life.”

Both Zhu and Trice were the only two — out of 24 faculty, staff, and students — to correctly predict three of the Final Four teams, as well as forecast that Villanova would emerge the victor.

Zhu admitted that picking No. 3 seed Michigan was a happy accident: “I read an article in which a bunch of experts were projecting Michigan State to win the tournament, so I thought I would bring them to the Final Four. Then I got confused by all the abbreviations and accidentally brought the University of Michigan to the Final Four instead, which ended up really working out.”

Bracket fees from the competition went to the Carolina Tiger Rescue, as requested by last year’s winner, Megh Freeland, human resources manager at the Social Sciences Research Institute. In total, the department raised $385 to help provide care to the 10 species of wild cats at the Pittsboro-based nonprofit wildlife sanctuary.

As the winner of the challenge, the fifth-year doctoral candidate is now the proud owner of the Marchinal Madness trophy, which will be on display in her office at the Econ House on Campus Drive. She also will select a charity for next year.