Saturday, April 4, 2015

STEM meets March Madness

Hoops and Mayhem: STEM Meets March Madness
Tears flowed and brackets were busted last weekend with the kickoff of  March Madness. Of the 11 million ESPN brackets filled out, not a single person had a perfect bracket after the second round of games. Two of the first three games in the men’s tournament alone ruined more than 99 percent of people’s perfect brackets. While your brackets may be trashed this year, you may want to consider how a little STEM knowledge can help you pick the winning team next year.
Consider a STEM-based ranking system: the Logistic regression/Markov chain (LRMC) ranking system is a great example of a STEM-based ranking system. With its foundation in math, LRMC considers a team’s results, its schedule and, distinct from many other methodologies, how court advantages have helped a team’s season performance. The system was created, and now maintained, by mathematics professors from MIT, Georgia Tech, and the City University of New York.
Learn from past upsets: Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight developed a way to determine how big of an upset a game actually is. His methodology ranks the most upsetting opening rounds in the NCAA men’s tournament since 1985. Silver points out, “In theory, we might expect to see upsets increase as parity increases in the men’s game and the differences between the teams becomes smaller. And it might not be so surprising that there have been fewer of them in this year’s tournament, which bucked the trend toward greater parity.” The 2015 March Madness kick-off underscored this research, as we observed the better seed in 23 consecutive games land the victory.
But when all else fails…
Flipping a coin is probably your best bet: we spotted this tip from STEMworks program Project Lead the Way (PLTW), which shared research explaining that flipping a coin yields better results than carefully selecting brackets.  Dae Hee Kwak, an assistant professor of sport management at the University of Michigan, flipped a coin 63 times and compared his results to the selections made by study participants in a mock tournament. Surprisingly, his average scores were better than the average of study participants.
BP’s Science of Basketball video emphasizes the value of STEM in basketball (and life), “From the classroom to the court, science is everywhere,” and March Madness is certainly no exception. Applying these tips may help you score a perfect bracket next year -- if not, at least you’ll learn a thing or two.

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