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2014 NCAA Tournament: NDSU math students use formula to fill out brackets

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A formula developed in the NDSU statistics department predicts the winner of every game in the NCAA Division I tournament.(AP Photo/Dave Kolpack) A formula developed in the NDSU statistics department predicts the winner of every game in the NCAA Division I tournament.(AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Some of the brightest math students at North Dakota State University have applied their brainpower to basketball brackets.

A formula developed in the NDSU statistics department predicts the winner of every game in the NCAA Division I tournament, an event that has created a Fargo frenzy with the hometown Bison men set to play an opening-round game on Thursday.

The model shows Arizona defeating Virginia for the men's title. It also has favored Oklahoma defeating NDSU, but it gives the Bison a 32 percent chance of beating the Sooners. That is close to the historical average for a No. 5 seed beating a No. 12 seed.

NDSU senior Bryan Rask, a mathematics and statistics major who worked on the men's bracket, said he likes the look of the final product, with a couple of exceptions. One, of course, is NDSU.

"I did actually pick NDSU to upset Oklahoma in my personal bracket," Rask said. "We've got a lot of senior leaders on our team, and if (Taylor) Braun and (TrayVonn) Wright play at the top of their game, I think we have a pretty good chance at the upset."

Rhonda Magel, chair of the NDSU statistics department, is a die-hard sports fan, especially when it comes to NDSU and her alma mater, the undefeated and No. 1 Midwest Region seed Wichita State. She estimates that last year she watched 40 games in the NCAA tournament, keeping watch on key statistics that are prominently figured into the model.

"Other people sit there and drink beer and eat potato chips," Magel said. "I sit there and follow my equation through the whole thing."

Magel calls the formula a "logistic conditional probability model" that takes into account strength of schedule and seasonal averages in statistical categories such as assists, turnovers and defensive rebounds.

"If you follow the game, turnovers and defensive rebounds are a big thing," Magel said. "Whoever wins those battles are pretty much going to win the game."

The NDSU bracket has three No. 1 regional seeds reaching the final four in Arizona, Virginia and Florida. The other projected semifinal qualifier is Louisville, a No. 4 seed.

"I will point out that a lot of people believe that Louisville has a worse seed than it is deserves," Magel said.

Rask said he researched results from the previous two seasons to find significant variables among tournament seeding, free throws attempted, free throws made, free throw percentage, points, defensive rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, assists-to-turnover ratio, and steals-to-turnover ratio. He plugged those findings into results from this season.

The only first round upsets are No. 9 Pitt over Colorado and No. 11 Tennessee or Iowa over Massachusetts. Tennessee and Iowa were slated to meet Wednesday night in a play-in game.

Wenting Wang, a graduate service assistant majoring in applied statistics, worked on the women's bracket, which shows Connecticut topping Notre Dame in the championship. Stanford and Maryland are the other final four teams.

"I prefer NBA basketball, but it was interesting to do the predictions," Wang said.

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