March Madness and the Miami Heat

“Heat Lose 5 in a Row” reads the ESPN link. The reason? Their starters’ positive point differential is less than their bench player’s negative point differential. Turns out two superstars, one good player, and a bunch of below average players is not an equation for dominating.

Contrast the 2011 Heat with the 2001 Seattle Mariners who went 116-46 based on the GM’s philosophy of being above average at every position.

What does this have to do with March Madness? Well, when you’re filling out your brackets you have to distinguish between 2011 Miami Heat teams and 2001 Seattle Mariners teams.

For example, Arizona—2011 Miami Heat. Belmont—2001 Seattle Mariners.

Heard a great radio interview this week with Rick Byrd, the Belmont coach who has won 500 games in 25 years at Belmont. Imminently likeable dude whose 2008 team, despite their 15 seed, had the lead and the ball against Duke with 45 seconds left. Eleven of his players play at least 10 minutes and none play more than 25. Another coach says, “You could argue their second team is as talented as their first team.”

Another excerpt from a longer tribute to the Belmont Bruins. “Belmont’s bench averaged 40 points per game, the highest average in the country.”

I’m not saying they’re Final Four-bound, but look for a Belmont upset, or two, or three. I’ll be rooting for them. Just hope they don’t leave my Miami Heatish UCLA Bruins in ruins.

[postscript—Pressing Pause is especially big in the “O” states. Duck and Buckeye boosters, really sorry to hear the NCAA has come knocking. I’m sure it’s much ado about nothing. Why can’t they just leave all your student-athletes alone? Hang in there. Penalties expire.]

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?