The NCAA basketball tournament from a biostatistician’s perspective

The NCAA basketball tournament got underway today, and though we aren’t big college basketball fans, we fully understand the needs of the considerable News Cut audience — brackets.

Today, an expert on statistics at the University of Minnesota gave away all of his secrets during a live chat at the Washington Post. Brad Carlin, a biostatistician, developed the Poologic Calculator. Fill in the data, and it spits out a bracket for you.

You think this is all just a game played by people who take the easy credits? Here’s Carlin’s response to the question of whether injuries are affecting the chances of a mid-seed team in the tournament?


I think there is room in the statistical modeling of these games to account for things like autocorrelation — e.g., a team like KSU that started poorly but is playing better lately (UConn might be another example). A lot of the current methods probably assume the games are all independent, but that’s probably an oversimplification. Time series methods could be used to account for the ‘streakiness’ in some teams’ performance and thus do a better job of predicting who’s going to persist in the tourney.

Well, yeah, obviously.

Good luck with your bracket.

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