It’s March: Time for Hoops … and Analytics!


Three business professors are using SAS analytic software to accurately predict the at-large teams in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The professors’ Dance Card model is averaging 93.5% accuracy over the last 11 years.

The professors -- Jay Coleman of the Univ. of North Florida in Jacksonville; Allen Lynch of Mercer Univ. in Macon, Georgia; and Mike DuMond of Charles River Associates and Florida State Univ. in Tallahassee -- created the Dance Card more than a decade ago to predict which teams will receive at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament ... aka the Big Dance.

The Dance Card is also a teaching tool for the professors’ students: the same analytics used to predict NCAA Tournament teams are also used by businesses and governments to:

The Dance Card analysis points to several significant factors that the Tournament Selection Committee weighs most heavily.  These include:

  • RPI (Rating Percentage Index), a fairly obvious one, is a measure used to rank teams based upon their wins and losses and strength of schedule.
  • Sagarin rankings from Jeff Sagarin that appear in USA Today.
  • Wins against top 25 teams (per RPI rankings).
  • Wins against teams ranked 26-50.
  • Neutral court wins (Note: conference tourneys matter!).
  • Record and rank in-conference (regular season championships matter!).
  • Strength of conference (conferences do matter!).

And what factors often cited by sports reporters are, per the Dance Card, less important?

  • A team’s record in the last 10 games, i.e.  the "hot team" myth. The Dance Card finds that a strong finish is not important to the Selection Committee vs. a team’s overall performance. Of course, those "hot teams" are often doing some of the other things -- winning on neutral courts, and beating teams in the top 25 or top 50 – that do help boost their chances according to the Dance Card.
  • A team’s record against teams ranked 50-100. Winning against good teams helps and the Dance Card model shows there's little downside losing to good teams. The lesson for athletic directors? Schedule less cupcakes and more top 50 RPI teams.

Want to know which teams are in, which are out, and which are on the bubble? Check out the Dance Card.

We’re in an age of “big data,” and organizations in all industries are collecting vast quantities of data.  Analytics help turn all that data into something useful. Whether picking NCAA Tournament teams or fighting fraud, boosting profits or building lasting customer relationships, predicting what will happen matters. Analytics count!

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About Author

Mike Nemecek

Public Relations Manager for SAS.

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