Message to hoops fans:
This story could make you look brilliant.
A computer-science professor at University of Illinois has created a formula that predicts NCAA Tournament upsets at double the success rate of someone picking at random — including, but not limited to, those who throw darts at the bracket, or pick based on their favorite color, the most ferocious mascot or the number of vowels in the coach’s last name.
This year’s upset picks both come out of the South region. They are No. 13 Buffalo (of the Mid-American Conference) over No. 4 Arizona and No. 14 Wright State (of the Horizon League) over No. 3 Tennessee.
But before betting the mortgage, read on:
The computer scientist who spearheads this project, Sheldon Jacobson, says the computer models only analyze potential upsets by 13, 14 and 15 seeds. A 16 seed has never beaten a 1 in the men’s Tournament; anything involving 11s or 12s produce “too much noise,” Jacobson says, meaning the relative closeness of the underdogs with their fifth- and sixth-seeded opponents interferes with the statistical model he uses to predict the upsets.
Jacobson and fellow scientists pared down 115 publicly available metrics for every team in college basketball to 15 that have served as the best predictors of upsets in years past.
Some examples include effective possession ratio — essentially the number of points a team scores per possession — along with average scoring margin and opponent’s 3-point shooting percentage.
Now for the science: The framework of these formulas is called “balance optimization subset selection” (BOSS), which is an artificial-intelligence algorithm (Google that if so inclined).
Jacobson’s website, bracketodds.cs.illinois.edu, gets thousands of hits a day this time of year. Its track record of picking upsets is hardly perfect, but still probably better than yours. Since 2003, 10 of its 26 selected games have resulted in upsets.
That said, for those placing faith in his science, Jacobson warns of the large gulf between predicting the future and forecasting what could happen.
“Nobody predicts the weather,” he says. “They forecast it using chances and odds.”
First Four starts tonight
UCLA’s storied NCAA Tournament history includes 18 Final Four appearances. A First Four? None, until now.
The Bruins open the Tournament in Dayton today at the bottom of the bracket looking up.
UCLA (21-11) faces St. Bonaventure (25-7) in the second game tonight at University of Dayton Arena. LIU Brooklyn (18-16) opens against Radford (22-12) in a matchup of No. 16 seeds.
St. Bonaventure is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 and has matched the school record with 25 wins — the 1969-70 Final Four team also won as many.
Veteran ref Ted Valentine, a staple of the Big Ten and known for theatrics that earned him the nickname “TV Teddy,” won’t be working any NCAA Tournament games, he told ESPN. He said it’s fallout from a January incident in which he turned his back on UNC player Joel Berry II.