Thursday, 20 March 2014

March Madness

Gus Macker, Intellivision Style (circa 1982)

Today, the sun crossed the equator, marking the spring equinox.  In Paris, it's a beautiful, sunny day, about 20 degrees, light breeze.  It's like many of its predecessors in that respect, with the added bonus that the air circulation patterns have changed, and we are no longer under "regles des pics de pollution," like automobile number-plate restrictions.

It's also mid-March, which means that back in the States, the annual NCAA basketball tournament kicks off.  

As I get older, I am less and less interested in sports.  For example, I once followed professional baseball as almost a second religion, worshiping in the Toronto Blue Jays sect.  Over time, with the revelations of the personal indescritions of the players, the movement of them from team to team as more or less athletic versions of the Seven Samurai, and the generally dismal annual fortunes of the Blue Jays, I have to say I am now a bit a lapsed believer.

I still, however, find the NCAA championships compelling; it's a sporting event - a series of them in reality - that really is unique.  68 teams play a single-elimination bracket, each "round" more or less halving the field until a single team is left.

One of the drawbacks to living in Europe is that, due to time differences, the games will be played late into the night.  In my younger days living in California, it was always nice (if detrimental to productivity) that the opening round games tipped off back East at noon, which meant nine AM for us.  Just as I was settling in to work, the first games were starting.  This was at the dawn of the internet, but one could follow the action in more or less real time on ESPN's web page.  (at that time, CBS had not yet shelled out a billion dollars to control content).  Central European Time is nine hours ahead of Pacific time, so the first jump ball will be at five PM here.

Oh well.

Anyhow, it's always a lot of fun to speculate who is going to move on, and who will be bounced early.  

Uber-analyst Nate Silver on his five-thirty-eight blog has created an algorithm to estimate the chances for each team to advance at each level.  His formulae are not revealed, but as a top-line, he indicates what the factors are.

Silver has become famous for his political predictions (I think he got all of the states "right" in the 2012 presidential election), but it's forgotten by many that his start was in sports.

I won't reveal all of Silver's estimations - one really ought to go to the site and look over the content, for, in addition to being a damned good modeller, Silver is an entertaining writer as well), but suffice it to say, he is projecting that defending champs Louisville have the best odds to cut down the final nets.  

The Cards' chances are not terrific (at 15 per cent), but that still puts them at the top, edging out Florida (the top overall seed, 14%) and Arizona (13%).  It's a bit odd that Louisville, a number four seed in their own region, would come out on top.  In fact, Florida have a better chance according to Silver's model, of reaching the Final Four (41%) and national title game (26%)

The team with the highest likelihood of reaching the Final Four is actually Arizona (42%) but the Wildcats fall back a bit at that level, presumably due to travel and/or opposition (they apparently do not match up well against Wisconsin?).

It's all very strange in that the one undefeated team - Wichita State - have apparently the toughest road for all the top seeds.  The Shockers, seeded one in their region, are estimated to have only a 14% chance to reach the final four, behind Louisville (4), Duke (3), and Michigan (2) in their own region.  WS is hurt by the presence of Kentucky as an eight, the team WS will face in the second round.  The model puts them at only slightly better than 50/50 to advance to the round of 16, easily the lowest chances of any top seed.

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