Dispassionate Madness

Give the debacle that was the UCLA bball season this winter, I nearly gave up March Madness for Lent. But alas, the allure of winning big bucks in the office pool (so far ten people have put in five dollars each) inspired me to fill out and submit a bracket. Despite my late-adapting techno idiosyncracies, as an experiment, I decided to go with the Wall Street Journal’s computer generated bracket from beginning to end. Regrettably, we have Puke beating Kansas in the championship game.

One thing is nagging me, how does a computer factor in game location, crowd intensity, and 20 year olds’ emotions? It’s not like swimming where the predicted finish of the finalists in any given heat is quite predictable. The tourney’s popularity is largely a result of unforeseen upsets.

If the computer could speak for itself, it would probably say that by factoring in every result from the season its accounted for home/away, crowd intensity, and emotional variables. As a result, we have BYU in the Final Four. The experiment is whether a computer can predict upsets. Hope so.

Here’s a relevant excerpt from Tuesday’s journal:

To better understand upsets, and to find the best way to predict them, The Wall Street Journal looked at the 40 biggest NCAA tournament upsets since 2004—the games where the surprise winner was seeded at least five spots below the favorite. For each upset, we compared the teams involved by their performance in two dozen categories. The majority of these comparisons were based on how the teams matched up—for instance, how well one team shot three-pointers during the season and how well their opponents defended against them. The same head-to-head comparisons were made for factors like rebounding and steals. In the end, we found a few strong similarities between all of these matchups. But there was only one unequivocal theme: the importance of turnovers. In 30 of the 40 games, the underdog “David” team had been better all season at protecting the ball and avoiding turnovers than the “Goliath” team had been at forcing them. Getting steals also is critical.

How should I spend my winnings?

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