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Can math beat your March Madness bracket? Yep

march madness bug

Some students' mathematical models predicted this upset (yellow).


Tim Chartier teaches math at Davidson College.

By TIM CHARTIER

For almost two years, I have been conducting research in the area of sports rankings, along with students at Davidson College and Dr. Amy Langville and her student researchers at the College of Charleston. A year ago, we applied our work to March Madness by creating mathematically-generated brackets that analyze the results of every game in the Division I NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

We wanted to know: Can our math beat your picks?

A convenient way to test our methods is to submit our brackets to ESPN’s Tournament Challenge. Last year, our group’s mathematical approach beat 97 percent of the more than 4.6 million brackets submitted.

This year, I taught some of this work to my math modeling class at Davidson College.

Tim Chartier

Tim Chartier (left) and senior research assistant Erich Kreutzer. (Davidson College photo)

In the end, students were able to create their own mathematical models and indeed create personalized math brackets.

March Madness receives national media attention. So does our work. Last year, we made the local paper and TV news. This week, our work again caught the eye of the media with Fox News Charlotte and Carolina News 14 coming to campus for interviews.

Derek James of Fox interviewed me and two of my research assistants on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Aaron Mesmer of News 14 Carolina interviewed me, one of my research assistants and a student from my modeling class.

CAN IT PREDICT UPSETS?

Aaron interview us just as the  first games of the tournament were being played. He asked if our methods could predict some of the upsets we might see that day. Not too long after he left, we got the answer: Yes.

The very first game of this year’s NCAA tournament had Old Dominion (11th seed) beating Notre Dame (a 6th seed). In our class about half my students’ brackets predicted this. (I did not.) One student who predicted the Notre Dame upset was Jennings Boley, who appears in the News 14 interview and does not even follow sports or basketball. He’s a math major and enjoys math modeling. How fun.

There are many more games to come and time will tell how we and our mathematical models fare. The winner of our mathematical modeling brackets from class will get a T-shirt from Davidson athletics and free cone coupons thanks to Ben and Jerry’s. And,  of course, bragging rights.

By the way, former Davidson star Stephen Curry posted a bracket online and it did not have ODU beating Notre Dame. So, some of his former classmates from the current senior class were doing better, at least at that moment, using math!

LINKS

News 14 Carolina story.

Fox Charlotte story from Wednesday.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 1562 posts on Sports.

David Boraks is the founder and editor of Davidson News LLC, which started in 2006 as a neighborhood blog and evolved into a regional community news network. He is a print, magazine, web and radio journalist, with experience in every nook and cranny of the news world, covering everything from local news to Fortune 100 companies to technology to Asia. He lives on South Street in Davidson, in a house that was at the center of a 1914 murder case. Ask him and he'll tell you that story.

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