Archives for February 2012

March Mathness — The Massey Method

In this post for March Mathness, Kenneth Massey whose popular ratings ( help rank the BCS teams each year, offers an overview of what goes into filling out his brackets for March Madness.



Advice on filling out March Madness brackets from Kenneth Massey


I’m a college basketball fan, but to be honest, I don’t watch many games during the regular season. Since my personal expertise is a function of ESPN highlights and commentary, I’ve learned to trust the math more than my own feelings about a matchup.

All season I compile a monster list of the various computer rankings for college basketball:

By following the results, I have a pretty good idea about which teams are over/under rated by the media and which ones are coming on strong or fading into tournament time.

Once the pairings are announced, I usually fill out a bracket based on my limited first-hand knowledge of the teams, the impressions I have from following the rankings, and maybe some “gut” intuitions. For that particular bracket, I don’t do any additional analysis, or even look at the numbers–I just rely on what’s already accumulated in my brain.

Now let me describe how I fill out my more analytical brackets. I have two different strategies, but both of them start with estimating the probabilities that each particular team will advance past each round.
In this post, I will describe that process. In a later post, I’ll describe how I use those probabilities to actually fill out my bracket picks.

I’ve been doing computer ratings for years, and have experimented with many mathematical models, one of which is described in Who’s # 1?. The model I currently use, and post on, is proprietary, but I will list some of the pertinent aspects of it.

1) Margin of victory matters, but in an intelligent way. There are diminishing returns for blowouts, and adjustments are made for the pace of the game. For example 60-45 may be more impressive than 100-80.

2) Winning is rewarded, especially on the road. Even if the margin is small, a team gets a bump by winning games against good competition.

3) Schedule strength is implicit in all the equations. Everything is measured relative to the opponent, so there is higher reward and less risk for playing tough opponents.

4) The model has a decaying memory of early season games. The team in March is different from the team in November.

5) Games between mis-matched opponents are not as important as games between well-matched opponents. There is a lot more information in a #18 vs #23 matchup than there is when #18 plays #230.

6) My model produces offensive and defensive ratings for each team, as well as homefield advantage estimates. From these, it is possible to predict the distribution of final scores for a hypothetical matchup between any two teams.

After the ratings are computed, I use conditional probability to effectively account for every possible scenario of how the bracket could “play out”. For example, if team X makes it to the Sweet 16, who are they likely to face? According to the seedings, some teams have easier paths of advancement. I can compute the probability that each team advances past a given round, the expected number of rounds a team will win, and ultimately each team’s probability of winning the championship.

The great thing about probabilities is that you are never “wrong”. For example, last year my calculations showed that UConn had an 86% chance of winning the first round, a 54% chance of advancing to Sweet 16, a 29% chance of advancing to Elite 8, 12% chance of advancing to Final 4, 5% of playing in the championship game, and a 2.3% chance of winning it all.

By the nature of randomness, it is not really surprising that underdogs occasionally win. Even a dominant #1 overall seed rarely has more than a 25% chance of winning the entire tournament. That’s what makes the event so exciting–nobody knows what will happen.

After all the probabilities are computed, I proceed to fill in my picks. Don’t I just pick the teams with the highest probabilities? Not exactly. I’ll address that in a subsequent post.

College at Risk indeed

This week the Chronicle Review’s lead article is from PUP author Andrew Delbanco and articulates the main themes of his forthcoming book College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be. Delbanco starts by noting that while we have political gridlock on many subjects, education isn’t one of them:

On that subject, Republicans and Democrats speak the same language—and so, with striking uniformity, do more and more college and university leaders. “Education is how to make sure we’ve got a work force that’s productive and competitive,” said President Bush in 2004. “Countries that outteach us today,” as President Obama put it in 2009, “will outcompete us tomorrow.”

But has the emphasis on “competition” and “productivity” obscured other things that college provides to its students and society at large? Delbanco argues that college is in peril and that we are losing sight of the real value of college.

He writes,

The distinctive contribution of the United States to the history of liberal education has been to deploy it on behalf of the cardinal American principle that all persons have the right to pursue happiness, and that “getting to know,” in Matthew Arnold’s much-quoted phrase, “the best which has been thought and said in the world” is helpful to that pursuit.

Sounds like a lovely and desirable experience, right? As Delbanco notes, the problem is that there are increasing demands for schools to prepare the next generation of competitive and productive workers with other purposes of college increasingly relegated to the sidelines. Tack on the obvious issues with cost, bloat, and graduation rates and the defense of battle can be an up-hill battle:

One of the difficulties in making the case for liberal education against the rising tide of skepticism is that it is almost impossible to persuade doubters who have not experienced it for themselves….But in our time of economic retrenchment, defenders of the faith are sounding beleaguered. Every­one who is honest about academe knows that colleges and universities tend to be wasteful and plagued by expensive redundancies. The demand for greater efficiency is reasonable and, in some respects, be­lated. The cost of college must be reined in, and its “produc­tivity”—in the multiple senses of student proficiency, graduation rates, and job attainment—must be improved. The trouble is that many reforms, and most efficiencies, whether achieved through rational planning or imposed by the ineluctable process of technological change, are at odds with practices that are essential if liberal education is to survive and thrive.

This article is a must-read for anyone concerned with the future of higher ed and more specifically concerned with the future of humanities and liberal education. Read the complete piece here:

David Scheffer in Europe

David Scheffer, author of the recently published ‘All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals’ will be touring Europe from 12 – 24 March, speaking in London, The Hague, Berlin, Cologne, Vienna, Budapest, Sarajevo and Brussels.  While in London he will be talking at the Society for Oriental and African Studies on 12th March and at Chatham House on 13 March.  Both these events are free and open to the public so please follow the links if you would like to sign up. For more detailed information on any of the other events in Europe please contact Caroline Priday or @crpriday

Another plate from the forthcoming Crossley ID Guide for the UK and Ireland

This time around, Richard’s provided a Black-tailed Godwit plate. It’s worth comparing this with the earlier sneak peek at the Bar-tailed Godwit.

Become a fan of The Crossley ID Guide series on facebook to stay in the loop on when this book will publish!


This Week’s Book Giveaway

Wildflower Wonders: The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World
by Bob Gibbons

Wildflower Wonders showcases the most spectacular displays of wild blooms on the planet, from infrequent flowerings in the Mojave and other deserts to regular but no less stunning alpine wildflower “events” in Italy, South Africa, and Australia. This magnificently illustrated volume features 200 panoramic, full-color photographs as well as a color map for every site and at-a-glance information panels that highlight the kinds of flowers at each location and the best times to see them in bloom. The informative text gives a botanical profile of each location, and also describes the ecology and conservation status of these sites and the animal life to be found at them.

A book unlike any other, Wildflower Wonders is a visual feast for travelers and armchair naturalists alike.


-Showcases the most spectacular wild flowerings on the planet

-Features 200 full-color photos

-Describes noteworthy flower species, ecology, conservation status, and animal life

-Includes color maps and at-a-glance information panels









“This stunningly beautiful book provides a wealth of information about when and where to see the world’s most impressive displays of wildflowers. The text is a pleasure to read and readily conveys the author’s enthusiasm for his subject. Wildflower lovers will be easily seduced by the vast flower-filled landscapes and intimate portraits of individual species. I can think of no other book like it.”—Carol Gracie, coauthor of Wildflowers in the Field and Forest

The random draw for this book with be Friday 3/2 at 3 pm EST. Be sure to like us on Facebook if you haven’t already to be entered to win!

Tim Chartier to discuss March Mathness at MAA Distinguished Lecture, Feb 28

The Mathematical Association of America sponsors a series of distinguished lectures and next up (quite literally as the lecture is taking place tomorrow evening) is Tim Chartier, co-author of the forthcoming book Numerical Methods with Anne Greenbaum, discussing a subject near and dear to Princeton University Press: March Mathness.

Hopefully you’ve already RSVPd as the event page is noting that the lecture is full. But, even if you are disappointed for the lecture, remember, you can still join in the March Mathness fun right here at Princeton University Press blog. Read more about our plans.


Here is the description of Tim’s lecture:

Every year, people across the United States predict how the field of teams will play in the Division I NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament by filling out a tournament bracket for the postseason play. This talk discusses two popular rating methods that are also used by the Bowl Championship Series, the organization that determines which college football teams are invited to which bowl games. The two methods are the Colley Method and the Massey Method, each of which computes a ranking by solving a system of linear equations. We also touch on how to adapt the methods to take late season momentum into account.
Tim Chartier is an Associate Professor of mathematics at Davidson College. His ability to communicate math both in and beyond the classroom were recognized with the Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Beginning College or University Mathematics Faculty Member from the Mathematical Association of America.  His research and scholarship were recognized with an  Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship. Tim serves on the Editorial Board for Math Horizons, a mathematics magazine of the Mathematical Association of America. He also serves as chair of the Advisory Council for the Museum of Mathematics. Tim has been a resource for a variety of media inquiries which includes fielding mathematical questions for the Sports Science program on ESPN.

Author Michael Ross discusses THE OIL CURSE tomorrow afternoon at The World Bank in Washington, DC

If you happen to be in the Washington, DC, area tomorrow afternoon and have no plans for lunch, please come out to The World Bank and hear UCLA political scientist discuss his sobering new book THE OIL CURSE: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations.  Michael will be in discussion with The World Bank’s Robert Lesnick.  The event kicks off at 12:30 PM at the following address:

Auditorium J1-050
World Bank J Building
18th Street and Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC

What’s your favourite city?

Self-confessed city flâneur Avner de-Shalit was recently interviewed by fellow Princeton University Press author Diane Coyle. Professor de-Shalit is the author of The Spirit of Cities, along with co-author Daniel A. Bell:

Which are your favourite books about cities by other authors, and why?

If it’s a sociology of cities I like coming back to Georg Simmel’s classic book, but it’s because I think the opposite — he thought it was impossible to
create a sense of community in the city and I think it’s the only place where a genuine community can rise. But my best cities book is Yehuda Amichai’s poems book on Jerusalem. I wish I could do the same: squeeze the entire city into two to three sentences.

Of all the cities you’ve visited which are the most interesting to walk around?

Well, I am biased. I am just in love with Jerusalem, and it’s such a lunatic city. Half of its inhabitants believe they have a direct line to God. But outside my city, I think Berlin is the most exciting city today. One can see that the city simply changes every day, and that people are excited about it. The combination of ultra modern architecture with the remains of the Communist architecture, and the abundance of sites of collective memory — this is just amazing. Not very easy for somebody Jewish like me, but still, terribly interesting.

Your book advocates walking to imbibe the spirit of cities. Which group is winning the battle for control of urban space – people or vehicles? Are many cities becoming unwalkable?

Well, now that Time Square NYC is walkable, there is hope. In the US there is a list of the 50 most walkable cities and the 50 which are most friendly to cyclists. While cars still dominate today’s cities, at least planners and mayors are well aware of the need to think differently.

If you had to choose another city to live in, which would it be?

Oxford, Oxford, Oxford. When I studied there one of my professors heard me saying I liked it a lot, and he said: But you know it’s not a real place. Now I know he was wrong. Oxford is a city which is full of life and energy and creativity. Only one has to get away from the colleges, to walk in the neighbourhoods. You can see artists, novelists, poets, and people who want to be artists, novelists and poets.

This interview was originally published on Diane Coyle’s blog, The Enlightened Economist

March Mathness: Princeton University Press Bracket Challenge

It’s that time of the year again–March is approaching and so is March Madness. Time to think about how to fill out your NCAA tournament bracket is running out. Whether you plan on competing among friends or you’re going to enter the ESPN tournament challenge with cash prizes at stake, the method you use to fill out your bracket is vital.

Luckily, authors Amy Langville and Carl Meyer have written a great book to help us all improve our odds of choosing this year’s winner. In Who’s #1: The Science of Rating and Ranking, they explain the methods of today’s (and yesterday’s) experts, showing why their strengths and weaknesses depend on the underlying goal, and explaining why and when a given method should be considered. They also try to steer you clear of bracket disaster by describing what can and can’t be expected from the most widely used systems.

The methods described in Who’s #1? really work. In 2008, College of Charleston undergraduates, Neil Goodson and Colin Stephenson, encountered a media storm of attention after using a combination of rating methods to correctly predict the NCAA Tournament outcome. The authors also describe the math behind national sports rankings from Jeff Sagarin and Kenneth Massey.

Here at the Press we’ll be participating in March Madness, or as we call it, “March Mathness,” too.  We will fill out our own brackets and submit them to our ESPN Tournament Challenge group, “March Mathness”. We invite you to play along with us and join our group.  Although we encourage you to use one of the methods from the book, you don’t have to.

In addition to following the ESPN leaderboard, we’ll be checking in with students from seven different schools who fill out their brackets using the mathematical rating methods, intuition, and a variety of home-grown methods. We will be comparing all of the mathematical and non-mathematical methods. Even if you decide not to use math yourself, you’ll be able to see how the algorithm predicted brackets turn out.

Last year’s March Mathness winner, former Davidson College math major, Kelly Davis, created her bracket using the Colley Method (explained in chapter three of Who’s #1) and actually beat several professional sports analysts.

We’re looking forward to an exciting tournament this March and hope you will join us in celebrating math and basketball. We have a great line-up of blog posts, so check back every few days. Order your copy of Who’s #1 today and get ready for Selection Sunday on March 11.

The number one question I field each week…

Has to be “When is the (fill in UK or Western) version of The Crossley ID Guide coming out?” Well, I don’t have the answer yet, but I do have a sneak peek at one of the plates for the Bar-tailed Godwit from the UK edition. More to come next week too, so check back.

You can click the image to make it a bit bigger.



FACT: “Congress’s 1819 Act Respecting Passenger Ships and Vessels (sometimes called the Steerage Act) limited the numbers of migrants traveling on any ship to two persons for every five tons of regular freight—thus creating an equation of commodities and living freight, with the added refinement of a measurable ratio. The act required ship captains to collect basic information about arriving foreigners, thus marking the beginning of U.S. efforts to count immigrants.”

Foreign Relations: American Immigration in Global Perspective
by Donna R. Gabaccia

Histories investigating U.S. immigration have often portrayed America as a domestic melting pot, merging together those who arrive on its shores. Yet this is not a truly accurate depiction of the nation’s complex connections to immigration. Offering a brand-new global history, Foreign Relations takes a comprehensive look at the links between American immigration and U.S. foreign relations. Donna Gabaccia examines America’s relationship to immigration and its debates through the prism of the nation’s changing foreign policy over the past two centuries, and she highlights how these ever-evolving dynamics have influenced the lives of individuals moving to and from the United States.

With an emphasis on American immigration during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century industrial era and the contemporary era of free trade, Gabaccia shows that immigrants were not isolationists who cut ties to their countries of origin or their families. Instead, their relations to America were often in flux and dependent on government policies of the time. She cites a wide range of examples, such as how bilateral commercial treaties of the nineteenth century influenced whether family members might receive passage to America, how families maintained bonds to their countries of origin through the exchange of letters and goods, and how politics on behalf of the mother country could still be fought from across the ocean. Today, U.S. commercial diplomacy in China and NAFTA-era Mexico raises concerns about immigrants once again, and Gabaccia demonstrates that immigration has altered with America’s developing geopolitical position in the world.

An innovative history of U.S. immigration, Foreign Relations casts a fresh eye on a compelling and controversial topic.

“No one has done more than Donna Gabaccia to develop a global framework for understanding the history of American immigration. In this book, she brings together her earlier work on international migration with a new interest in American foreign relations. The result is a bold, sweeping, and provocative recasting of America’s encounter with immigrants past and present.”—Gary Gerstle, author of American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century

We invite you to read the Introduction here:

Watch David Scheffer, William Shawcross, and Harold Koh at US Holocaust Museum on the search for accountability

David Scheffer also has a provocative op-ed in the International Herald Tribune today which you can read on the mirrored NY Times site:

In it he writes:

Using the word “genocide” loosely can be tragically ineffective or self-defeating. It can intimidate powerful nations from reacting quickly enough to prevent further atrocities….By forgoing “genocide,” politicians would no doubt disappoint interest groups determined to use the label to describe the suffering inflicted on their ancestors. The Armenians, in particular, would find this compromise hard to accept. But their strongest case rests with the historians and the jurists now — not with the politicians whose loose indictments trigger the very tensions that can ignite prejudice among peoples and nations. Shifting to “atrocity crimes” in government speech, meanwhile, would focus the efforts of officials on getting more unified international responses to ongoing massacres.