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Patrick Kastner

Put some science in your March Madness bracket

Don’t fill in your March Madness bracket without these tips from Ohio State economists. With picks based in science, you just might beat last year’s performance.

Let’s tell the truth up front: Ohio State’s top minds in sports analytics don’t have the secret to winning your annual March Madness office pool. If they did, well, they probably wouldn’t be talking to us. “There isn’t a secret sauce,” says Ryan Ruddy, an economics department lecturer who began teaching a course on sports analytics this year. “If we had one, we wouldn’t tell everyone. We’d sit on it and make some money.” Nonetheless, we threw a full-court press on Ruddy and his colleague Trevon Logan, the Hazel Z. Youngberg Distinguished Professor of Economics, and got them to cough up a few strategies that might — repeat might — help you better enjoy your annual trip to Bracketville.

Improve your bracket in 60 seconds

Cara Reed, Matt Stoessner

Review your past performance. 

“The first question to ask yourself is how your bracket did last year. Where do you go wrong and what did you do right?” Logan says. “Part of data analytics is really about learning from past behavior.” OK, we’ve done terribly in the past. That was easy, now what?

Lean on predictive models. 

Ruddy recommends the rating systems created by sports statisticians Jeff Sagarin and Kenneth Massey as well as Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website. “There are a couple of people who spend their lives making these models, so you’re not going to make one in a weekend that’s going to be any better.” (Or ever.)

Consider the teams people in your pool might be biased to choose.

“At some point, you have to have something that isn’t the same as everybody else,” Ruddy says. Sadly, that often means picking against Ohio State (or the Big Ten generally) if you’re betting with a crowd wearing scarlet-and-gray-colored glasses.

Count on upsets. 

“Upsets happen more often than people think,” Ruddy says. “If there are five games where the favorite has a 90 percent chance of winning, that means on average there’s going to be an upset in one of those five.” Expect the unexpected.

No matter how things pan out, don’t get too discouraged.

“You’re going to improve your outcome, but you’re still not going to predict every outcome,” Logan says. “The goal should be to have fun with it and have a better chance of winning.”

Go mad

Ohio State hosts the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament, March 22–24.

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