Quick Questions for Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, author of Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics

5-28 Palacios-HuertaIgnacio Palacios-Huerta is a Professor of Management and Strategy at the London School of Economics, and is the current Chair of the Management department there. He received a B.Sc. in Economics from the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, and an M.A. in Economics from the University of Chicago, where he also completed his Ph.D. in Economics. Palacios-Huerta is also the Head of Talent Identification at the Athletic Club de Bilbao and is a Senior Fellow at the Ikerbasque-Basque Foundation for Science at UPV/EVU.

Dr. Palacios-Huerta is a contributing editor of In 100 Years (MIT), an engaging text that draws on the expertise and imagination of ten prominent economists to “present their ideas about the world of the twenty-second century,” considering topics like “the transformation of work and wages, the continuing increase in inequality, and the economic rise of China and India,” among others. He continues to produce scholarship on economic theory and has several articles, like “Consumer Inertia, Choice Dependence and Learning from Experience in a Repeated Decision Problem” (Review of Economics and Statistics), up for publication in 2014.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?
Ignacio Palacios-Huerta: In recent decades, economics has extended across many fields and areas previously considered to belong to sociology, political science, psychology, and several other sciences. What distinguishes this book is that its basic idea is just the opposite: it is not what economics can do for area or field X, but what X can do for economics. And so it takes exactly the opposite route. In the book X is, of course, soccer. And the idea is to attempt to obtain and present novel insights into human behavior using data and settings from soccer. This is what distinguishes this book from other economics books and from other books on the study of sports, and I think it is its most important contribution. After all, if the economic approach is applicable to all human behavior, then any type of data about human activity is useful to evaluate economic theories.

What is the biggest misunderstanding that people have about what you do? (I.e., is it anthropology? Economics? etc.)
I think this picture (taken from N. Gregory Mankiw’s blog) captures quite well a number of misunderstandings:

What+Economits+Do[1]

What are you reading right now?
A novel by Ramiro Pinilla, Aquella Edad Inolvidable, a biography of British graffiti artist Banksy by Will Ellsworth-Jones, and Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh.

What was the most influential book you’ve read?
I would say, for different reasons, these three books are tied in first place:

Economic Theory by Gary S. Becker; A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume; and The Passions and the Interests by Albert Hirschman (Princeton).

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?
The actual writing took me around 4-5 months, but I was thinking about it for a long time, probably around 3-4 years, collecting data, developing experiments, running the different empirical tests, and reading and keeping relevant stories and anecdotes in my mind to make the book as engaging as possible.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?
Lack of time: time to think, and time to work and write.


“The idea is to attempt to obtain and present novel insights into human behavior and data settings from soccer. [...] I am interested in pushing the economic approach to human behavior.”


Why did you write this book?
Two reasons. First, as indicated in the first question, there is a clear aspect that distinguishes this book from other economics books and from other books on the study of sports. To the best of my knowledge this is the first book that takes this novel approach, and so I felt that, from this perspective, there was a genuine chance to present a unique contribution. Second, I am interested in pushing the economic approach to human behavior. And so, if any type of data about human activity is useful to evaluate economic theories, what could possibly be most appealing to a wide audience than data from sports, and in particular data from the world’s most popular sport?

Who do you see as the audience for this book?
Anyone interested in economics, anyone interested in sports, and anyone who thinks that he or she might perhaps become interested in economics and/or in sports, especially if he or she has a curious or scientific mind.

How did you come up with the title or jacket?
The title was a suggestion by the initial editor of the book at Princeton University Press, Richard Baggaley, and by my colleague at the London School of Economics, David De Meza. They both, independently of each other, had the same suggestion. And as soon as they suggested this title, I thought it was great. I really liked it and instinctively knew that it would be the title of the book.

With respect to the jacket, it was a suggestion by an excellent designer at Princeton University Press. I suggested some ideas, and one of them was distantly related to the one in the final jacket since it contained a “bicycle kick.” But the jacket is more striking and spectacular than anything I could have come up with. I really like it.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ignacio is the author of:

5-28 Palacios-Huerta BGT Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics by Ignacio Palacios-Huerta
Hardcover | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691144023
224 pp. | 6 x 9 | 30 line illus.| eBook | ISBN: 9781400850310 |Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]

March Mathness Postscript

march-mathness1-150x150[1]The ups and downs of March Madness are slipping into memory, but we have one final postscript to write. Who won the March Mathness challenge put forth by Tim Chartier to his students at Davidson College?

We are delighted to announce that Robin Malloch, a history major who is graduating this month, picked the best brackets out of Dr. Chartier’s class. She has joined Teach for America and will be teaching Middle School math in Charlotte, North Carolina this fall. Thankfully, before she heads off to do the good work of teaching algebra and geometry to eager (or truthfully, not so eager, we’re guessing) 7th and 8th graders, she has provided us with some insight into her bracket strategy during March Mathness:

I will describe my method as best I can. I made several brackets with different methodologies–one based on basketball gut, one on pure math, and others with a combination.  My purely mathematical bracket did not fair that well. My two combination brackets which were a bit more arbitrary fared the best (89th and 92nd percentile). For those, I used the math to inform my basketball knowledge. Any time my basketball bracket contradicted the math ranking or if the rankings were nearly tied, I would look into the game further to see if either team had key players injured, how player matchups, what experience/track record the coaches had, etc.

As for my actual math rankings, I used Colley. I tried to account for strength of schedule, so I broke the season into three parts. The last couple games of the season are the conference tournament, which I gave more value to than any other games of the season. Then I broke the rest of the season in half: the first half being primarily out-of-conference games and the second half being primarily in-conference ones. For teams in a competitive conference (more than 3 teams from the conference in the tournament), I weighted the second half more heavily. For teams in weaker conferences, I weighted the first half more heavily when teams would likely face tougher competition.  This method actually made my rankings closely resemble the 1-16 rankings produced by the NCAA selection committee.  I enjoyed applying math brackets and looking at basketball with a new lens.

For more on the various bracketology methods Tim Chartier teaches his students, please check out our March Mathness page.

Top Tips for 2014 March Madness Brackets from Tim Chartier

Chartier_MathWith a $1 billion dollar payday on the line, we predict there will be more people filling out March Madness brackets this year than ever before, so it isn’t surprising that everyone is looking to mathematician Tim Chartier for tips and tricks on how to pick the winners. Tim has been using math to fill out March Madness brackets with his students for years and his new book Math Bytes will have an entire section devoted to best tips and tricks. In the meantime, we invite you to check out these tips from an interview at iCrunchData News.

ICrunchData: What are a few variables that are used that are out of the ordinary?

Chartier: “In terms of past years, it helps if you look at scores in buckets. For instance, you decide close games are within 3 points and count those as ties. Medium wins are 4 to 10 points and could as 6 points and anything bigger is an 11 point win. That’s worked really well in some cases and reduces some of the noise of scores.”

“Here is another that comes out of our most current research. This year’s tournament will enable us to test it in brackets. We tried it on conference tournaments and it had good success. We use statistics (specifically Dean Oliver’s 4 Factors) and look at that as a point, in this case in 4D space. Then we find another team that has a point in the fourth dimension closest to that team’s point. This means they play similarly. Suddenly, we can begin to look at who similar teams win and lose against.”

#WhereInNYC Photo Quiz 4 — solution

We challenged you to identify this building (well really a corner of a building!), hinting that it was near a NYC landmark. There was a very subtle clue in the categories for which the post was tagged. Did you catch it?

quiz

How many of you figured out it was The Sutton?

solution

Gentrification comes to Harlem, writes Bill Helmreich in the caption for this photograph from The New York Nobody Knows. The building is the Sutton, hard by the Polo Grounds projects (hence the “Sports” category in the quiz post). Bradhurst Avenue, 145th to 155th Streets.

 

As featured in:

bookjacket The New York Nobody Knows
Walking 6,000 Miles in the City
William B. Helmreich
Read chapter 1: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s10060.pdf

 

#WhereInNYC Photo Quiz 4

Who can pinpoint this building near a New York landmark?

quiz

 

As featured in:

bookjacket

The New York Nobody Knows
Walking 6,000 Miles in the City
William B. Helmreich

Read chapter 1: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s10060.pdf

 

Jackie Robinson Day

April 15, 1947: a great day for baseball, a better day to break down barriers. Jackie Robinson made his professional baseball debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on this day in 1947. The impact was not only prolific in terms of civil rights, but within the realm of the sports world, professional baseball gained a huge contender.

Today, Robinson’s courageous step into the national spotlight in becoming the first African American professional baseball player is celebrated through Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day. This year marks the fifth annual celebration that is recognized annually on April 15th- the day of Robinson’s major league debut. During every ball game today, all the uniformed personnel will be sporting Robinson’s iconic jersey number, 42.

Spring is in the air so naturally baseball season is in its prime. Head out to the ballpark and learn some more about what Robinson added to America’s favorite pastime!

1. Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War by George B. Kirsch

During the Civil War, Americans from homefront to battlefront played baseball as never before. While soldiers slaughtered each other over the country’s fate, players and fans struggled over the form of the national pastime. George Kirsch gives us a color commentary of the growth and transformation of baseball during the Civil War. He shows that the game was a vital part of the lives of many a soldier and civilian–and that baseball’s popularity had everything to do with surging American nationalism.

By 1860, baseball was poised to emerge as the American sport. Clubs in northeastern and a few southern cities played various forms of the game. Newspapers published statistics, and governing bodies set rules. But the Civil War years proved crucial in securing the game’s place in the American heart. Soldiers with bats in their rucksacks spread baseball to training camps, war prisons, and even front lines. As nationalist fervor heightened, baseball became patriotic. Fans honored it with the title of national pastime. War metaphors were commonplace in sports reporting, and charity games were scheduled. Decades later, Union general Abner Doubleday would be credited (wrongly) with baseball’s invention. The Civil War period also saw key developments in the sport itself, including the spread of the New York-style of play, the advent of revised pitching rules, and the growth of commercialism.

Kirsch recounts vivid stories of great players and describes soldiers playing ball to relieve boredom. He introduces entrepreneurs who preached the gospel of baseball, boosted female attendance, and found new ways to make money. We witness bitterly contested championships that enthralled whole cities. We watch African Americans embracing baseball despite official exclusion. And we see legends spring from the pens of early sportswriters.

Rich with anecdotes and surprising facts, this narrative of baseball’s coming-of-age reveals the remarkable extent to which America’s national pastime is bound up with the country’s defining event.

2. Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself, 1903-1953 by G. Edward White

At a time when many baseball fans wish for the game to return to a purer past, G. Edward White shows how seemingly irrational business decisions, inspired in part by the self-interest of the owners but also by their nostalgia for the game, transformed baseball into the national pastime. Not simply a professional sport, baseball has been treated as a focus of childhood rituals and an emblem of American individuality and fair play throughout much of the twentieth century. It started out, however, as a marginal urban sport associated with drinking and gambling. White describes its progression to an almost mythic status as an idyllic game, popular among people of all ages and classes. He then recounts the owner’s efforts, often supported by the legal system, to preserve this image.

Baseball grew up in the midst of urban industrialization during the Progressive Era, and the emerging steel and concrete baseball parks encapsulated feelings of neighborliness and associations with the rural leisure of bygone times. According to White, these nostalgic themes, together with personal financial concerns, guided owners toward practices that in retrospect appear unfair to players and detrimental to the progress of the game. Reserve clauses, blacklisting, and limiting franchise territories, for example, were meant to keep a consistent roster of players on a team, build fan loyalty, and maintain the game’s local flavor. These practices also violated anti-trust laws and significantly restricted the economic power of the players. Owners vigorously fought against innovations, ranging from the night games and radio broadcasts to the inclusion of African-American players. Nonetheless, the image of baseball as a spirited civic endeavor persisted, even in the face of outright corruption, as witnessed in the courts’ leniency toward the participants in the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

White’s story of baseball is intertwined with changes in technology and business in America and with changing attitudes toward race and ethnicity. The time is fast approaching, he concludes, when we must consider whether baseball is still regarded as the national pastime and whether protecting its image is worth the effort.

Sports and Education during March Madness

If you’ve been keeping up with PUP’s March Mathness, you must have a much better bracket than I do. This year I chose to make my picks based on rankings and even took a little advice from ESPN commentators rather than doing my usual picks based on mascots and/or uniform colors. This has been by far my worst bracket ever. If I had made my picks mathematically with PUP or even based on school mascots, I bet I would have won this year’s pool. Tonight is the night, though- the final championship game.

Sometimes when I watch the games, I forget that the players are students like me- granted, they get national television exposure and I don’t. With all the press they receive not only from their own local media but national media like ESPN, it’s easy to forget that these players go to class and are in school getting a degree in addition to playing ball.

Besides the national exposure, there are plenty more differences between me and a recruited student athlete at a big time school. After tonight, the college sports world will continue with baseball and lacrosse season just to name a few prominent school sports, and these basketball players will head back to class- but what are the differences between the likes of Kevin Ware and me heading to class?

William Bowen, also author of Higher Education in the Digital Age, and Sarah Levin discussed these differences in their 2005 book Reclaiming the Game. From admissions into the school to grades in a class, the differences between a student athlete and a regular student are both vast and troubling.

Read below to preview Chapter 1 of Reclaiming the Game.

Chapter 1

IN NO OTHER country in the world is athletics so embedded within the institutional structure of higher education as in the United States. This is true at all levels of play, from the highly publicized big-time programs that compete under the Division I banner of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to small college programs that are of interest primarily to their own campus and alumni/ae communities. But to many sports fans, “serious” college sports are thought of almost exclusively in terms of Division I competition between highly skilled teams composed of students holding athletic scholarships. It is no surprise, therefore, that the ranking of the best and worst college sports programs introduced by U.S. News & World Report is concerned, at least in the first instance, only with play at this level.1

However, as both university presidents and readers of the sports pages know well, the public exposure these programs receive is not always positive: the extensive reporting of events such as the resurgence of Notre Dame football, the bowl championship series, and basketball’s “March Madness” is regularly accompanied by commentary on the “dark side” of big-time sports.2 In 2001 the Knight Commission published a second report calling for reform of Division I sports in stronger terms than ever before,3 and a week does not pass without one or more stories detailing some new recruiting scandal or lapse in academic standards, debating gender equity issues, commenting on rowdy behavior by athletes and other students, or speculating on the future course of the NCAA.

The academic downside of big-time sports has been recognized for a very long time–indeed, for at least a century.4 The generally unstated–or at least untested–assumption has been that all is well at colleges and universities that provide no athletic scholarships and treat college sports as a part of campus life, not as mass entertainment. The positive contribution of athletics in these contexts is emphasized on the sports pages of student newspapers, alumni/ae magazines, and of official publications, which, taken together, provide a generally healthy corrective to a societal tendency to emphasize problems.5 The director of athletics and physical education at Bryn Mawr, Amy Campbell, surely spoke for many dedicated coaches and administrators at such schools when she wrote: “College athletics is a prized endeavor and one that enriches the experience of college students. The question should not be ‘at what price athletics’ but rather how to structure athletic programs that serve both the student athletic interest and the greater goals of liberal arts institutions.”6

We identify strongly with this pro-sports mindset and cannot imagine American college life without intercollegiate teams, playing fields, and vigorous intramural as well as recreational sports programs. But we are concerned that all is not well with athletic programs at many colleges and universities outside the orbit of big-time sports. One of our principal concerns is that widely publicized excesses and more subtle issues of balance and emphasis may undermine what many of us see as the beneficial impact of athletics. “Save us from our friends” is an old adage, and it has real applicability here. Zealous efforts to “improve programs,” boost won-lost records, and gain national prominence can have untoward effects that may erode the very values that athletic programs exist to promote–as well as the educational values that should be central to any college or university. From our perspective, the challenge is to strengthen, not weaken, the contribution that athletics makes to the overall educational experience of students and to the sense of “community” that is important not only to current students but also to graduates, faculty members, staff, and others who enjoy following college sports.

Click here for more of chapter 1.

LA Times Article with Tim Chartier

Davidson math professor, PUP author and bracketology expert, Tim Chartier, discusses the math behind March Madness with the LA Times.

chartierMathematician Tim Chartier has the best job on Earth once a year: when the NCAA men’s basketball tournament begins, so does March Mathness.

His telephone rings, he’s on the radio, he’s talking to ESPN, and for once he can explain what exactly he does for a living at North Carolina’s Davidson College.

“For the first time in my life I can talk about what I’m doing, on a higher level, and people understand,” Chartier said.

What Chartier does is use complex math to win the Final Four pool on a regular basis. How regular a basis? He’s been in the top 3%  of the 4 million submissions to ESPN’s March Madness tournament challenge, which is arguably the major league of sports prognostication.

“That’s when we said, whoa, this thing really works,” Chartier said of his brush with sports handicapping superstardom.

Blame it on tiny Butler College. Chartier’s math class was among those to recognize that fifth-seeded Butler was destined for the finals in 2010. That was the second year Chartier started making bracketology — the art and science of picking winners among 68 teams in a single-elimination tournament — part of his syllabus. That’s right: take Chartier’s course and you’ll be deep into basketball come March.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “March Madness puts Davidson math professor in a bracket of his own”  http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-74922641/

 

Skipping to the good stuff — who is going to win March Madness this year? At least according to the math?

So, who did Chartier pick? With a simplified Massey method (which gives his students a fighting chance), he agrees with Dick Vitale: Louisville wins it all, in this case beating Florida, then Indiana, which beats Gonzaga.

By the Colley method, the Final Four are Duke, Kansas, New Mexico and Miami, with New Mexico winning.

Which system will do the best?

“That’s the madness for us in the math!” Chartier said.

 

Read the complete article here: http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-74922641/

Who’s #1? Kyle Snipes’ bracket after the Round of 32

After the Round of 32, Kyle Snipes was #1 on our leaderboard. Below he gives us an update on his bracket.

SnipesAs the scores continued to roll in Friday and Saturday afternoon, I was left echoing the words of many bracketologists around the country- “Dang, thanks to ___________, my bracket is totally busted!” For me, FGCU, Oregon, and Ole Miss dealt the harshest blows. When the second round was said and done, my mathematical methods had correctly predicted 2 of the 10 first round upsets (lower seed over higher seed) while incorrectly predicting victories by Missouri and St. Mary’s over their higher seeded opponents. Once the madness of the first weekend had subsided, however, I came out looking relatively strong. As of the first weekend of the tournament, my best bracket (based on the Massey method) was sitting at the 97.2 percentile in ESPN’s nationwide pool.

While my method was unable to recognize strong teams on the lower seed lines, it did a great job of telling me which teams were strong out of the teams that everyone thought would be strong (with the exception of Gonzaga). Looking forward, I still have 7 out of 8 teams remaining in the Elite Eight, and 3 out of 4 Final Fours teams, including my National Championship participants. I’m excited to see if my bracket is able to remain near the top as the tournament plays itself, but more importantly, I’m ready for some more March Madness!

How did they create their brackets? Two Davidson students explain.

Maddie Parrish is senior Economics major with a Communications Studies concentration at Davidson College. She plays Division I field hockey.

Maddie Parrish - DCFH

March Madness. 65 elite NCAA Division I Basketball teams competing to win it all, the NCAA Tournament Championship. Every year fans from across the nation create brackets to predict who will ultimately be #1. I am one of those fans, and I’m excited to share my story. My name is Maddie Parrish and I am a senior Economics major with a Communication Studies concentration at Davidson College, a small, highly selective liberal arts school twenty minutes north of Charlotte, NC.  We are also the alma mater to such basketball phenoms as John Belk ’43, Terrence Holland ’65, Kenneth Wilson ’84, Mike Maloy, and Stephen Curry.  My hometown is Chester, VA, a suburb of Richmond and I have interests in economics, communications, sports, and many other topics. In the fall of 2012, I wrapped up my fourth and final season as a member of the Davidson Wildcats NCAA Division I Field Hockey Team. Being a student-athlete at Davidson has clearly shaped my college experience. It has made me who I am today by teaching me many lessons about dedication, respect, passion, heart, and life in general.

As a student-athlete, the pride I have in my school and its’ athletic teams is enormous. I am a huge fan of college basketball and I am close friends with many of the Davidson Basketball Team members.  Our boys just won the 2013 Southern Conference Championship for a second year in a row and the entire school is supporting them in their March Madness journey to the NCAA Championship. My personal connections and interest in Davidson basketball are my main reasons for completing a March Madness bracket this year.

I am an athlete, a sports-lover, and a passionate sports enthusiast. Although a rookie to Bracketology, I know that using mathematic strategies is the best way to create a successful bracket. Being an Economics major, math comes easily to me and I find it very enjoyable. This Spring I am taking Dr. Tim Chartier’s MAT 110 – Finite Math course here at Davidson in which we spend a good chunk of class time learning about linear systems and how to solve them. The concepts of linear systems are the key behind ranking the right teams in our bracket by using matrices and weighted values. In class, we learned about the Colley Method for sports ranking, which utilizes winning percentage to determine each team’s ranking. Another method of sports ranking is the Massey Method, which utilizes actual game scores in the regular season to determine each team’s ranking. With both methods, there is an opportunity to choose your own weighted values for specific times during the season. For example, it is possible to weight games that occurred in the beginning of the season less than games mid-way through the season and at the end of the season. If games at the end of the season are weighted more than 1 game, say each game counts as 2 games; the weight is capturing a team’s final push or momentum. A team’s momentum is explained by their ability to win games at the end of the season, which is admirable because the season is so long and competition may be very tough.

For my March Madness bracket this year, I am choosing to use the Colley Method because I am curious to use my newly learned knowledge from class in a life application and see how well it really works. I split the season into four even intervals, one for games at the beginning of the

season, one for games leading up to mid-way through the season, one for games in the second half of the season, and one for games at the very end of the season. I am creating my weights for each season interval based on the hypothesis that as a basketball team plays more games, it gains momentum and wins more frequently. I also am using the Davidson Men’s Basketball schedule results from this year to create my weights. In the first two intervals of the season, the team lost a good number of games. However, they have not yet lost a game in the third and fourth intervals of this year’s season. Using this intuition, I am weighting the first interval at 0.5/1 game, the second interval at 0.75/1 game, the third interval at 1.25/1 game, and the fourth interval at 2/1 games. This means that games played in the beginning of the season are only worth half of a game and games at the end of the season are worth two games. Therefore, if a team is winning more at the end of the season due to momentum then those wins will be worth more in my ranking method.

I understand that using the Colley Method may not factor in specific scores of games and because of this will not capture strength of opponents throughout the season. Yet, I am confident that using the Colley Method and the particular weights I have chosen will produce solid results. After the 65 teams (1 play-in) were announced on Selection Sunday, I filled in my bracket according my method rankings. Of course, I ranked Davidson higher due to the success of their season thus far and due to my personal bias. :)

As a student-athlete, I have always been interested in how we can harness the talents of individual teams throughout the nation and celebrate sports through common mediums such as love for the game, competition, and passion for your school. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament provides a venue for all of these values. It also allows for fans to express their passion for the game, pride for their school, and their intuitive math sense in a fun way. Using my intuition as an athlete and my knowledge of math, I have created a bracket that I hope will perform well during the March Madness basketball tournament. I am curious to see how it turns out and wish the best of luck to all of the teams who have the honor and privilege of participating in the tournament! Here at Davidson, we have a saying that runs throughout campus each day that follows “It’s a Great Day to be a Wildcat!” Hopefully, my bracket will sing this tune throughout the tournament! Go ‘Cats!

 

Kyle Snipes is a senior Math major at Davidson College. He is from Indian Trail, NC. He is a volunteer Younglife leader and a lifelong basketball fan. He will be spending this March Madness season cheering on the Davidson Wildcats!

Snipes

I have competed in bracket pools for a long as I can remember. In the past I have picked games based on what I know about basketball with a fairly high success rate. Since my senior year of high school, I have won at least one of the couple of pools that I have competed in. This will be my first year applying mathematics to my March Madness selections.

I will use ranking methods adapted from the Colley and Massey ranking methods. Since all NCAA tournament games are played at neutral sites, I will count road and neutral site games as a full game, while weighting home games as partial games to account for any homecourt advantage a team might have during the regular season.

I will weigh different portions of the season differently. Generally teams will play the toughest part of their nonconference schedule in preseason tournaments and standalone nonconference games early in the season. On the other hand, a team’s performance early of the season is less likely to be representative of their performance at the end of the season. Therefore, I will give games during the first quarter of the season a weight of 0.7. The second quarter of the season is still a bit early to be representative of a team’s performance come tournament time. Since there are generally fewer nonconference games during this part of the season, I will give these games a weight of 0.6. Teams begin playing the important part of their nonconference during the third quarter of the season. It is also the point in the season where teams poised to make a deep run in the tournament will begin hitting their stride. I will give the games during this quarter of the season a weight of 0.85. Teams that succeed during the last quarter of the regular season are the teams that will be hot coming into the tournament. I will give these games a weight of 1. I have noticed that teams that rely solely on winning their conference tournaments to get to the Big Dance will be burnt out by the time they play the next weekend. Furthermore, teams that have already secured a spot in the Big Dance may have more of an incentive to rest players and avoid injury than to perform to the best of their potential during their conference tournament, making these games even more illegitimate. Therefore, I will only use data from regular season games in my rankings.

One last idea I would like to implement into my ranking is to reward teams who go on long winning streaks as well as teams who are able to beat teams on long winning streaks. I imagine that this will help pick out teams who are able to win successive games, as they must do in the tournament, as well as the giant killers who are able to beat teams that are in the middle of a strong run. If I have the time, I will do this by incrementing a game’s weight by 0.05 for each game in the winning streak for whichever team comes into the game with a longer winning streak. I will cap this at a weight of 1.5 games to avoid over-rewarding strong teams playing in weak conferences in which long winning streaks are common. I plan on submitting three bracket– two using different ranking methods and one where I will synthesize the math with my intuition. I’m excited to see how my picks stand up against the rest of the country!

 

How are we doing after the round of 32?

John_Hussey[1]Sportscaster-John Hussey

The first weekend of the NCAA tournament was as surprising as ever, with Florida Gulf Coast’s sweet 16 appearance topping the list. FGCU put the largest dent into my bracket knocking out Georgetown, which eliminated a team from the finals for me, essentially ending what chance I had at a good score. Even though the game was a big upset, it wasn’t “entirely” a shock. Going into the tourney, I knew that FGCU had a win over Miami on their resume and Georgetown’s Princeton offense makes them susceptible to low scoring games, which makes them vulnerable. There is a reason that Georgetown lost to South Florida this year.

Out West, I had the right idea picking against Gonzaga in the second round–I just picked the wrong team in Wichita State. In the South, the basketball gods must really love Florida. This is the second straight year that Florida gets to play a 15 seed in round 2 or later. For perspective, Florida has now played a 14, 11, and 15 in their first three games, while #1 seed Kansas has played a 16, 8, and now a 4. Talk about luck of the draw for the Gators! I wish someone would have told me that would happen!

I had a near miss with Illinois over Miami (FL), which really torched my East Region. It will be interesting to see who wins that Indiana/Syracuse matchup down in Washington DC. I’ll be in attendance to see what happens.

Overall, with three Final Four teams alive (and my champion), the first weekend wasn’t a completely disaster. But it was pretty close!

 

vickie_kearn[1]Math Geek-Vickie Kearn

This was definitely a weekend of hits and misses for me. There were some big surprises from a math point of view, especially FGCU, Oregon and Ole Miss. However, I still have 7 of 8 teams scheduled to go to the Elite Eight (assuming they survive the Sweet 16). Although I was sad to see my math off track, I did love seeing some personal favorites (Temple and Lasalle) and underdogs (FGCU) go further than I expected.

After riding high the first day of play my sister, who made her picks based on the color of the team jerseys, is rethinking that strategy. Her color is blue and she did pick Duke so she may be flying high again soon.

The Sportscaster versus the Math Geek

John Hussey and Vickie Kearn both work at Princeton University Press. John is the assistant sales director and national accounts manager and Vickie is the mathematics editor. We thought it would be fun to see how they filled out their March Madness brackets. The conversation that follows took place on March 20 at our PUP offices. To get things started, we asked a single question: How did you fill out your bracket?

Vickie: You may have figured out I am the math geek. After getting my math degree at the University of Richmond, I taught math for 8 years and then ventured into publishing math books. Although I am a huge sports fan, my true love is football. I didn’t watch basketball until we began March Mathness a couple of years ago. Now I will be glued to the TV for the next few weeks. I really don’t know much about the game at all but I love watching the numbers and the great upsets, especially those we have seen so far this year.

Now to my bracket. Because of the many upsets this year, I decided to ignore the seeds.

I looked at four things when I filled in my bracket:

1. Strength of schedule (pulled from RPI). I gave this figure a weight of 1.
2. Winning percentage for the regular season earned a weight of 1.
3. The sum of the posts season wins over the past three years plus the coach’s winning record with their current team also got a weight of 1.
4. Then each team received the following bonus points.

-One point if they were the leader in their conference in the regular season.
-One point if they are a major team and if they are in a tested basketball conference like the ACC, Big East, and Big10.
-One point if they won their conference championship season
-One point for the leaders in points per game/rebounds per game/scoring offense and scoring defense

Bonus points are weighted as 2 because they reflect how the teams were playing at the end of the season.

John: What about style of play?

Vickie: I don’t know that much about basketball, I’m in March Madness for the math. I’m interested in the data and stats.

John: To get an understanding of my approach, here’s my background: I went to Syracuse University for sports broadcasting. I have friends that still work in sports. My picks are based on a personal study of the game; I watch about 20 hours of sports/week and college basketball is my favorite. My picks are similar to Vickie’s, but from a different point of view. I’m not distinguishing between conference tournament and how a team plays through the stretch of the season. I’ve been watching teams play and deciding on style of play. For example, if one team tends to make a lot of 3-pointers and they’re up against a team with a strong zone defense, the zone defense is not going to do well. Where things get tricky is making decisions about Syracuse. Since that’s my team I’m pretty biased. When you watch teams extensively, you have seen them in the good times and bad but the bad times stick in your mind. For example, Kansas’ loss at TCU or Michigan’s loss at Penn State. I also know a lot about upset histories. This year there are no #1 seeds in my final bracket because this year no one team dominated. The possibilities are wider this year…could be a five seed that wins.

Vickie: I only have one #1 seed in my final 4. We both picked #2 seed Duke as the 2013 champion.

John: Player experience is also a big factor. Some game style doesn’t translate into a tournament setting. Duke is a great team, but sometimes flakes out super early. They lost to Lehigh last year but they make lot of deep runs. It’s interesting that Miami is in Vickie’s final 4 but I have them flaming out in the 2nd round. They’re too reliant on 3pt shooting. They’re not an intelligent team and play up and down.

What does the math say the biggest upset will be in the first round?

Vickie: New Mexico State over St. Louis is a 13 over 4 and San Diego State over Michigan is a 13 over 4. California over UNLV is a 12 over 5.

John: Any upsets in your Elite 8? No major upsets but I do have 2, 3, and 4 seeds.

Vickie: No major upsets but I do have 1, 2, 3, and 4 seeds.

John: I don’t have any top seeds in my final four because they have been losing lately, but the math is backing up the top seeds.

Vickie: But here’s the real question: will we beat the president?

John: Obama takes the smart, safe approach to the bracket. Historically he has been very good, because he is conservative in his picks and doesn’t bet on upsets. Generally that’s a good way to go. This year is going to be odd since the tops aren’t doing so well. It really could be a 5, 6,or 7 that wins. Nothing crazy based on the math?

Vickie: No, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see an upset.

John: Gonzaga has a great RPI, but they’re not ranked high. Their defense metrics must be off . They have a great winning percentage but not necessarily the RPI.

Vickie: But seriously, will we beat the president?

John: He’s playing smart and safe. I want to win, but in an interesting way. It’s a little riskier when you don’t have any #1 seeds in the final 4.

Vickie: Well it’s interesting how similar our brackets are even though we had different strategies! I just got a text from my sister who picked her teams by the color of their uniforms. Blue is her color so she also picks Duke to win this year.

In case you are wondering, the odds of having a perfect bracket are 9.2 Quadrillion to 1. Good luck and have fun.