The Frontal Cortex

Predicting the NCAA Tournament

Now that the NCAA basketball tournament brackets have been announced, it’s worth reminding ourselves not to bet too much money on our (overconfident) predictions. Why not? Because the tournament is impossible to predict. That, at least, was the conclusion of a 2001 paper by the economists Edward Kaplan and Stanley Garstka. They mined every statistical tool they could think of in an attempt to crack the office pool. They searched for secret algorithms in past NCAA tournaments, and used Markov models to see if regular season performance affected post-season performance. They ran endless computer simulations, and plugged in a vast trove of player data.

The end result? They achieved “overall prediction accuracies of about 58 percent, but did not surpass the simple strategy of picking the seeds when the goal is to pick as many game winners as possible.” In other words, all the fancy mathematical equations were utterly useless: the tournament remained a mystery, a stochastic process of indeterminate outcome. So don’t waste too much time and money trying to be an expert, or pretending like you know if Ohio State is better than Kansas and UCLA. The NCAA tournament isn’t a science; it’s a sport.


  1. #1 J-Dog
    March 12, 2007

    It’s all about the mascots and the colors of the uniforms… and how good the damn referees are on any given night.

    Go Buckeyes

  2. #2 TexSport Publications
    March 18, 2007

    Nice way to select your picks. Guesses can be just as good as those using computer analysis.

    I am 23-9 after the first round. I just looked briefly at their records and who they had played, and made my picks.

    So hang in there. It’s for fun. It is not like we could support ourselves on the money we would make betting on own selections.

    Please feel free to stop by my blogs and check out my picks. Leave a post on comment if you like.

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