Sunday, March 16, 2003

Teams can get Dance Card punched here

Software allows professors to predict schools

The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Want a jump on who's headed to the NCAA tournament? Two university professors can help.

Using a complicated formula and computer software, they say they can all but predict which men's college basketball teams will be happy on Selection Sunday.

"Every year we look at it and ask if this is the year it's going to screw up," said Jay Coleman, an operations management professor at the University of North Florida.

He and research partner Allen Lynch, who teaches economics at Mercer University in Georgia, developed the formula.

"Dance Card," as they named it, accurately predicted 63 of the 65 teams invited to the national tourney last year (Missouri and Wyoming were overlooked). In 2001, they hit on 64 of 65 (believe it or not, Missouri was the team that fooled 'em).

"Missouri has been a thorn in our side," Coleman said. "We're thinking of adding a rule that Missouri automatically gets in."

If the NCAA announced the field Thursday - instead of today, when all the data will be in after conference tournaments - teams such as Providence and North Carolina State would just make it in this year, according to "Dance Card." On the other hand, College of Charleston, Oregon and North Carolina would miss out.

From 1994-01, Coleman said, the model would have predicted 257 of the 274 available at-large tournament slots - a 93.8 percent success rate.

The formula relies mainly on six pieces of datum about each team, including the Ratings Percentage Index rank and number of victories against teams ranked 1-25 in the RPI.

How and why did the pair come up with their system?

"We follow sports religiously in our leisure time. But we've also published our findings in an academic journal," Coleman said.

The "Dance Card" formula was published in the May-June 2001 issue of Interfaces, a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.

Using software developed by SAS Institute Inc., based in Cary, N.C., the formula relies on the same predictive power of analytics used by large corporations to forecast customer behavior for marketing campaigns or to anticipate problems in manufacturing.

A bank might use analytics to decide whether someone should be approved for a loan when they have to draw the line on whether the applicant is a good credit risk or a bad one.

According to Coleman and Lynch, the accuracy of the "Dance Card" suggests the NCAA selection committee does a reliable job choosing deserving schools despite its changing membership as well as pressure and criticism from fans, teams and the media.

The formula isn't designed to make bolder predictions such as forecasting the NCAA champion. The model leans toward favorites and discounts the reality of upsets.

"We might be able to predict the winners of the first round," Coleman said. "Beyond that, I don't know how far it can go."

"Dance Card's" 65 picks

The 65 teams that "Dance Card," compiled by university professors Jay Coleman and Allen Lynch, predicts will make the NCAA men's basketball tournament, in order (based on data through Thursday). x- denotes a team that already automatically qualified as conference champion:

Kentucky; Arizona; Syracuse; Florida; Texas; Wake Forest; Marquette; Kansas; x-Pittsburgh; Oklahoma; Dayton; Xavier; BYU; Duke; Utah; Wisconsin; Louisville; Stanford; Notre Dame; Illinois; St. Joseph's; x-Creighton; Memphis; Oklahoma State; California; Mississippi State; Maryland; Michigan State; Missouri; Southern Illinois; Butler; x-Weber State; Connecticut; Purdue; x-Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Colorado; Cincinnati; UNLV; x-UNC Wilmington; Gonzaga; x-Manhattan; Arizona State; x-Western Kentucky; Saint Louis; Tennessee; Indiana; Boston College; Central Michigan; LSU; Holy Cross; Seton Hall; Alabama; Texas Tech; x-Pennsylvania; Auburn; Oregon; x-Troy State; Wyoming; Providence; x-Austin Peay; x-San Diego; x-Wagner; x-East Tennessee State; x-IUPUI; x-UNC-Asheville

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