Simple math formula predicts NCAA tournament outcomes - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Predicting the NCAA tourney using fourth-grade math

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This is my hand on my desk pointing to the page in my awesome fourth-grade math book that tells me how to do arithmetic to predict basketball games (Source: Tom Ensey/RNN)
A picture of chicken in a basketball uniform holding a basketball under his wing appears in my fourth-grade math book. (Source: Tom Ensey/RNN)
A picture of kid doing basketball-related mathematical functions appears in my fourth-grade math book. (Source: Tom Ensey)

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(RNN) – Oklahoma State will clobber Oregon. North Carolina will ease past Villanova. North Carolina State will easily handle Temple, and in one of the best matchups of the tournament, Colorado State will defeat Missouri by 0.00016.

How am I able to so boldly predict the future? Arithmetic, that's how. Highly specialized, fourth-grade arithmetic.

Nate Silver, America's favorite statistician, who predicted the presidential election outcome on the nose, used all kinds of computers and high-function equations to fill out his NCAA tournament bracket.

I used the third edition of Basketball Math, Slam-Dunk Activities and Projects for Grades 4-8.

That thing on Amazon that recommends books you'd like based on your browsing history is amazing. It said I would like this \$1.39 fourth-grade math workbook that tricks kids into doing their homework by making them do basketball statistics.

I love me some hoops. And unlike most journalists, I can find the calculator function on my iPhone.

No human ever punched the trademarked Buy-now-with-1-Click button more quickly. This is a great book, people.

It not only teaches the nuts-and-bolts stats like free throw percentage and points per game. It gets into the esoteric, high-minded stuff that compares teams and players by using the "points per play" method.

I had noticed that statistic cropping up more and more often in the nerdier niches of sports journalism. And I have since learned that gamblers have from time immemorial used variants of it in their never-ending quest to pick more than 50 percent of games correctly.

Like Sabermetrics in baseball it measures offensive efficiency. The concept is founded on the indisputable fact that the team that scores the most points wins. You will have far fewer scoring possessions than non-scoring possessions - but you can measure which teams are, on the whole, more productive than others.

The math is pretty simple, too. You could get a lot more complicated if you wanted to, but here's the short equation.

Basically, you divide total points by possessions. Possessions equals shots taken, turnovers and free throws divided by two. (This is not a precise measurement, since sometimes single free throws are awarded after a made basket. But it's close enough for our purposes.)

The stats are readily available on the school's athletic websites and you can do the math on a cocktail napkin.

The fractional number is our magic indicator of offensive success. So let's see if it works.

I didn't pick all 32 games. Too much work, and there are never that many great matchups in the first round. But I did check out a few that looked like they ought to be close and interesting.

Here we go:

• Eighth-seeded Colorado has a razor-thin edge over Ninth-seeded Missouri. The Buffs average 0.91906 per possession, Mizzou pumps in 0.91890 per trip. If Missouri plays really good defense, and can limit Colorado's touches, it has a chance.
• Fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (0.902220) should crush the 12th-seeded Oregon Ducks (0.86458), even though those 5-12 seed games are often really interesting. This would also be a pretty good football game.
• Often sketchy North Carolina (0.898699), an 8-seed, should get by workmanlike Big East foe Villanova (0.84377358), seeded ninth. I'll be surprised if the winner doesn't get destroyed by Kansas in the next round, though.
• Another 8-9 seed, ACC vs. Big East matchup features North Carolina State (0.9575), a solid favorite over Temple (0.91008). This game should be called "Gateway to Getting Clobbered By Indiana."
• UPSET SPECIAL: 11th seeded Bucknell (0.933358554) easily eliminates 6-seed Butler (0.89799809).

See you at the Sweet 16.

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