Throughout the upcoming week, as teams punch their dance tickets, I’ll be assembling the massive 80-stat Excel sheet that I make available to Insiders late on Selection Sunday evening. Then some time around midnight, I’ll start cranking out a set of statistical models for filling out your bracket. Last year, I committed to doing 10, then wound up offering 15. This year, I’m shooting for 12. We’ll see how it goes.
Some of these models—like the higher-seed baseline strategy, KenPom, BPI and Nate Silver—are relatively easy to crank out. Others, like Final Four/Champ and Seed Match-up, take time…and tax my sleep-deprived, numbers-groggy brain. But I usually get them all taken care of by Monday afternoon. Usually.
In advance of the big stats-crunching week, I put together a handy-dandy chart showing the performance of the bracket models in the ESPN Tourney Challenge going back to 2005. The numbers refer to the model’s percentile achievement against all competing brackets; they aren’t a measure of pick accuracy. Here’s how the 14 models I’ve offered over years have fared:
Three of the top four performing models are based on the indexes of popular statisticians—Nate Silver, Dean Oliver (ESPN’s BPI) and Ken Pomeroy. Of course, the Silver and BPI systems only have one year of results. And KenPom only accounts for the past six dances. In fact, if you take away the 2005-07 dances from Final Four/Champ, that model has beaten KenPom 82.7 to 76.2.
My Outcome Matching experiment has performed well in its two tourneys. This model “force-fits” the average number of upsets per round and follows historical in toss-up games to make the results look like a real bracket should. It’s a high-risk strategy that could just as easily go down in flames. So far, though, I’ve avoided disaster.
There are two models in this list that aren’t constrained by any statistical. One is my “From the Gut” picks and the other is my “Keeper Bracket.” The gut model is nothing more than my first impression of how I think the bracket will play out. I take no more than five minutes to fill it out. The keeper model is the bracket I play in my small pool with friends. Sometimes I go contrarian on that, but for the most part, this is the bracket where I try to meld the numbers and my instincts. Not surprisingly—and somewhat cruelly—the gut model performs significantly better than the keeper model.
What is it that Malcolm Gladwell said in Blink? “On straight-forward choices, deliberate analysis is best. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to get complicated—when we have to juggle many different variables—then our unconscious thought processes may be superior.”