Why Danny Sheridan Gets Paid to Handicap Games--and You Don'tHave you ever wondered how well a handicapper like Danny Sheridan would do if he filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket? Every year before the tournament there is that list in USA Today that shows Sheridan's odds for each of the 64 teams. ESPN.com allows you to fill out up to five brackets, so this year I filled out one bracket based entirely on Sheridan's odds. The result? Sheridan's bracket finished at the 97.8 percentile, with 53 games correctly picked out of 63. Of course, since ESPN gets so many entries, that worked out to finishing in 63,232rd place. One big caveat: Sheridan had Florida and North Carolina each as 3-1 favorites to win the title; Florida was listed first and based on the order that other tied teams were listed in that did not seem to be because of alphabetical order, so I selected Florida in the "Sheridan bracket." Obviously, if I had gone the other way then the bracket would not have scored so well. Sheridan's Final Four was Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State and UCLA (tied at 6-1 with Kansas, but listed ahead of Kansas in USA Today's rendering of Sheridan's odds). So he got three out of four, missing Georgetown (tied with Memphis for 6-7 on his list). His Elite Eight were Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State, UCLA, Kansas, Memphis, Georgetown and Wisconsin, so he scored seven out of eight; Oregon, which got an Elite Eight spot instead of Wisconsin, was ninth on Sheridan's list at 12-1 (Wisconsin was 10-1).
So, if you went strictly by Sheridan's picks you would have gotten three of the Final Four teams and seven of the Elite Eight teams. You would have had one half of the championship game matchup. The main thing that he missed was ranking North Carolina so highly. Of course, the Tar Heels blew a big lead and lost to Georgetown in overtime.
In addition to filling out a "Sheridan bracket" I also did a "Jeff Sagarin" bracket. Sagarin is a 1970 MIT graduate who has been ranking teams in various sports seemingly forever. There were no ties in his rankings, though some teams were ranked within hundredths of a point of each other. The "Sagarin bracket" finished at the 87.4 percentile, with 49 games correctly picked out of 63. That works out to 368,944th place. Sagarin had North Carolina and Ohio State 1-2, but based on the seeding that would have meant that North Carolina would beat Ohio State in the Final Four and then win the championship over Florida. Sagarin's Final Four was North Carolina, Ohio State, Florida and Kansas. UCLA and Georgetown, which made it instead of North Carolina and Kansas, were sixth and eighth in his rankings. His Elite Eight picks were North Carolina, Ohio State, Florida, Kansas, Wisconsin, UCLA, Memphis and Georgetown, so he only got five of those right.
It is interesting that both Sheridan and Sagarin overrated North Carolina and Wisconsin, though I have no idea what that actually means regarding their methodologies. If it is not obvious I should clearly state that this is not meant as a scientific evaluation of their abilities as a handicapper or statistician respectively; one tournament bracket is far too small of a sample size from which to draw any sweeping conclusions. Still, both men did a more than reasonable overall job of assessing the tournament field.
What about my other three ESPN brackets? Before answering that, I should mention that I watch less college basketball now than I ever have, mainly because I watch so much NBA basketball--and I don't feel like I am missing anything, because I have always felt that the NBA game is a much better game than the college game, a subject that I wrote about last year; a recent Charley Rosen article also makes an excellent case for the vast superiority of the NBA game to the NCAA game. When I do watch NCAA basketball, I am much more likely to see the "name" teams than the "Cinderella" ones, so the early rounds are a bit of a crap shoot for me outside of the slam dunk 1-16 matchups. With those excuses out of the way, the best of my other three ESPN brackets finished at the 91.7 percentile (48-15), which is 244,355th place. I had the correct title game matchup but picked Ohio State to win. My only Final Four miss was picking North Carolina over Georgetown. I was 7/8 in the Elite Eight, missing only Oregon. I always like to fill out a couple "wacky" brackets that are a bit more loaded with upsets than what I really expect to happen. This year was pretty much a "chalk" year, so the "wacky" brackets did not do so well: 45-18 and 43-20. I stuck with Ohio State over Florida in both of those brackets because I felt pretty strongly that those two teams would meet in the championship game.
March Madness was fun, but the NBA playoffs, culminating in the NBA Finals--that is where it's really at!
posted by David Friedman @ 9:52 PM