how to pick a winning bracket

It’s that time of year again to be swept away by college basketball for awhile.  I am looking forward to the tournament this weekend, a little less than before I found out that my alma mater didn’t make the cut.  Maybe that will give me the opportunity to be more objective and to make a decent bracket.  I am going to summarize two methods for making bracket picks.

The Chicago Tribune wrote a story about one of Sheldon Jacobson’s papers about the tournament that was published last year.  Jacobson and graduate student Douglas King performed a statistical analysis of how the seeds performed over 25 years of tournament data.  The results indicate that seeds are important for the first three rounds but are meaningless beyond the Elite Eight.

From the Elite Eight on, chance is as much a determinant as seeding. After the first two rounds, where seeds No. 1, 2 and 3 dominate, the seeding system falls apart, according to a study he conducted on the 25 years of NCAA tournaments since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

“Whoever’s in the Elite Eight, you can flip a coin,” said Jacobson, whose field is operations research and probability. “You think, ‘If a 1 is playing a 7, should we do that?’ Statistically speaking, you can. As you go further in the tournament, the seeds erode even more.”

I wrote about this article last year, and it’s nice that it has made a lasting impression.  You can hear Sheldon Jacobson discuss his research on two Chicago radio stations.

I’ve also written about LRMC (the method developed by Joel Sokol and Paul Kvam and improved by George Nemhauser and Mark Brown).  LRMC is a method to predict the winner in each game of the tournament.  Since there are three versions of LRMC (LRMC Pure, Bayesian LRMC and LRMC(0)), it can be used to make three different brackets.  Last year, LRMC(0) finished in the 97.8th percentile in ESPN’s tournament challenge.

Between the LRMC methods and selectively flipping a coin in the later rounds in the tournament, you should be able make a few good brackets, statistically speaking.

How do you make your tournament picks?  Who do you think will win the national championship this year?  Isn’t March Madness infinitely better than the college football bowl system?

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