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Archive for Sunday, March 16, 2003

Computer program predicts NCAA field

March 16, 2003

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— Want a jump on who's headed to the NCAA Tournament? Two university professors can help.

Using a complicated formula and computer software, they say they can all but predict which men's college basketball teams will be happy after Selection Sunday.

"Every year we look at it and ask if this is the year it's going to screw up," said Jay Coleman, an operations management professor at the University of North Florida. "We keep our fingers crossed."

He and research partner Allen Lynch, who teaches economics at Mercer University in Georgia, developed the formula.

"Dance Card," as they named it, accurately predicted 63 of the 65 teams invited to the national tourney last year (Missouri and Wyoming were overlooked). In 2001, they hit on 64 of 65 (believe it or not, Missouri was the team that fooled 'em).

"Missouri has been a thorn in our side," Coleman said. "We're thinking of adding a rule that Missouri automatically gets in."

The Tigers certainly helped their chances Saturday by winning their Big 12 Conference tournament semifinal game against fourth-ranked Kansas University, 68-63.

If the NCAA announced the field Thursday -- instead of today, when all the data will be in after conference tournaments -- teams such as Providence and North Carolina State would just make it in this year, according to "Dance Card." On the other hand, College of Charleston, Oregon and North Carolina would miss out.

Coleman and Lynch looked at past NCAA Tournaments to see how they would have done. From 1994-2001, Coleman said, the model would have predicted 257 of the 274 available at-large tournament slots -- a 93.8 percent success rate.

Not too shabby.

The formula relies mainly on six pieces of data about each team, including the Ratings Percentage Index rank and number of victories against teams ranked 1-25 in the RPI.

How and why did the pair come up with their system?

"Both Allen and I are sports geeks," Coleman said. "We follow sports religiously in our leisure time. But we've also published our findings in an academic journal."

The "Dance Card" formula was published in the May-June 2001 issue of Interfaces, a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.

Using software developed by SAS Institute Inc., based in Cary, N.C., the formula relies on the same predictive power of analytics used by large corporations to forecast customer behavior for marketing campaigns or to anticipate problems in manufacturing.

"It's used in a number of different ways," said Anne Milley, manager of analytical strategy for SAS. "Here it's used to determine the probability of the teams on the bubble who will make it in the tournament."

A bank might use analytics to decide whether someone should be approved for a loan when they have to draw the line on whether the applicant is a good credit risk or a bad one.

The software is used in a wide variety of ways, including testing the reliability of airplanes.

According to Coleman and Lynch, the accuracy of the "Dance Card" suggests the NCAA selection committee does a reliable job choosing deserving schools despite its changing membership as well as pressure and criticism from fans, teams and the media.

The formula isn't designed to make bolder predictions, such as forecasting the NCAA Tournament champion, though. The model tends to lean to favorites and discounts surprises.

"We might be able to predict the winners of the first round," Coleman said. "Beyond that, I don't know how far it can go."

The 65 teams that "Dance Card," created by university professors Jay Coleman and Allen Lynch, predicts will make the NCAA men's basketball tournament, in order (based on data through Thursday; x-denotes a team that already automatically qualified as conference champion):

Kentucky, Arizona, Syracuse, Florida, Texas, Wake Forest, Marquette, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma, Dayton, Xavier, BYU, Duke, Utah, Wisconsin, Louisville, Stanford, Notre Dame, Illinois, St. Joseph's, x-Creighton, Memphis, Oklahoma State, California, Mississippi State, Maryland, Michigan State, Missouri, Southern Illinois, Butler, x-Weber State, Connecticut, Purdue, x-Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Colorado, Cincinnati, UNLV, x-UNC-Wilmington, Gonzaga, x-Manhattan, Arizona State, x-Western Kentucky, Saint Louis, Tennessee, Indiana, Boston College, Central Michigan, LSU, Holy Cross, Seton Hall, Alabama, Texas Tech, x-Pennsylvania, Auburn, Oregon, x-Troy State, Wyoming, Providence, x-Austin Peay, x-San Diego, x-Wagner, x-East Tennessee State, x-IUPUI, x-UNC-Asheville.

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