Note: This post was submitted for Teamrankings.com’s Stat Geek Idol competition, with a few modifications/corrections made here (including 200 simulations per game instead of 50, which generates more consistent results). Thanks to Teamrankings for the data!
A few years ago, I ran my office NCAA pool. Right at the deadline, a Swiss economist that I worked for came over, bracket and sheepish grin in tow. He knew nothing about basketball, but someone had explained the seeding system to him. He optimized based on the only inputs he had: he filled out the bracket purely by seed (choosing randomly between the one seeds in the final four). He finished second, of course, which was almost as bad as the year my wife won my pool by choosing teams from her favorite places.
Maybe this Swiss fellow saw through the charades. How predictive is seeding after all? Since 2007, the higher seed has won about 72% of all tournament games (picking the winner randomly when seeds are the same). The favorite by the gambling spread has won 73% of the time, so seeding does quite well. This year, I set out to match this performance using team statistics from the regular season (all stats below are for the 2007 through 2011 tournaments). I’ll have some upset picks at the end (which are the only way to differentiate your bracket from the average in a big pool), but you have to do the leg work with me first.
The question to ask is: what really matters in a basketball game? The team that scores more points wins. That seems like a fair (and obvious) starting point. In fact, the team with the higher average point differential during the regular season won 68% Continue reading