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SAS formula calculates NCAA Tournament chances

Posted March 9, 2012

For fans of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is an annual expectation. Both teams are again ranked in the top 10 and, no matter how they play this weekend in Atlanta at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, can expect a berth in the field of 68 who play for the national championship.

At North Carolina State University, fans are not quite as secure. Their team's 21-11 (9-7 ACC) record puts them squarely on the bubble.

Ultimately, a committee decides which teams get an invite and which sit at home during March Madness. Their algorithm includes not just wins and losses, but it is top secret. Every year, teams get left out, and fans are left wondering.

The three economics professors who ran the numbers through a data analysis program developed by Cary-based software firm SAS showed that NC State is almost a sure thing. Jay Coleman, of the University of North Florida, Allen Lynch, of Mercer University, and Mike DuMond, an adjunct professor at Florida State University, developed the "Dance Card" formula using information about past tournament selections to predict which teams are most likely to get in. 

"They are looking at historical information of teams of the past, and they are applying it to the future," said Gary Cokins, a principal consultant at SAS. "Their goal is to see if they can predict which of the half of the 60-plus NCAA teams that didn’t get in through winning their tournament are actually going to qualify."

Over three years, the "Dance Card" has been about 94 percent accurate. Cokins said that record is a point of pride both for the professors and for SAS. "The real message is that you are using information technology to sort out problems and basically predict things," he said.

SAS data analysis programs have many applications. Cokins described how retailers use data to determine where to place merchandise and florists to predict what types of flowers to order in advance of Mother's Day.

NC State sophomore Coleman Phifer hopes the NCAA Tournament selection committee looks beyond the numbers when evaluating his team. "If you look at their losses against North Carolina and Duke, those are a little bit tougher loss than losing to an unranked opponent," he said. "So, the people who look at it, I hope they look at that and not just the statistics of a win-loss record."

State fan Matthew Richie said he knows some bias will apply. "Statistics takes a good part of it, but I always say there is a favorite that everybody’s going to pick," he said. 

Garrett Owen, an NC State graduate student, summed it up. "I definitely think NC State has a chance. It just takes a great team, a good coach and a lot of hard work," he said.

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  • Gunnstigator Mar 9, 6:37 p.m.

    They should run it through "Watson" the IBM computer that beat everyone on Jeopardy and see who Watson predicts. But, yeah it is interesting when you take the emotion out of it and see what a computer predicts.

  • Zaknow Mar 9, 4:40 p.m.

    Pretty interesting! Go Pack!

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