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Analytics, Basketball, and the Perfect NCAA Bracket

Analytics assists people on a daily basis to learn more about their business, customers, and pretty much anything that is going on in the world. Analytics also reminds us of what we already know. One of those things we’ve known for a long time is that no matter how good the raw data is, no one will correctly pick the winner of all 67 games in the NCAA tournament and win the $1 billion prize that Quicken Loans is providing via an insurance policy from Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

Analytics has taught us to never say never, but a Duke University math professor has placed the odds of such an occurrence as 1 in 10 pentillion. For those of you unfamiliar with the number of digits in a pentillion, it’s equal to 10 billion billions. You might as well plunk a buck down on the Mega Millions lottery game on Tuesday night. The odds are better (1 in 258 million) and the prize isn’t too shabby, either ($400 million).

Basketball fans and gamblers will be poring over statistics the next few days to make the best possible conclusions on epic battles such as Colorado vs. Pittsburgh and Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State in a pair of games between teams seeded eighth and ninth.

Some analysts swear that experienced upperclassmen that can make three-point shots is the way to bet, as if that is some precious jewel of information uncovered in a salt mine.

As much as experts in analytics hate to say this, there are some decisions that are best left to gut instincts. That’s no way to underwrite an insurance policy or find out which is the best agency for carriers to do business with, but even in the best of cases, analytics can lead us to the point of making the best decision, but who knows if there’s a fatal flaw in the data.

Maybe Nate Silver has the answer. The former New York Times reporter and statistical analyst was supposed to unveil his new fivethirtyeight.com website today through his association with ESPN.

In 2012, he correctly picked the winner in 49 of 50 states in the presidential election and the debut of his new website was timed to coincide with the NCAA tournament. Ninety-eight percent may not win you a billion dollars, but it could get you through just about any NCAA bracket contest.

So use all the data you can find. It might make you feel more comfortable about your decisions and put a little bounce in your step when you correctly pick Tulsa, a 14 seed, to knock off No. 4 seed UCLA.



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