Update: March 18, 2017: In a stunning upset, Wisconsin just beat Villanova. It is easy to see why this happened based on the factor relevance diagram below. To win games, Villanova has relied heavily on moving the ball, while Wisconsin has relied heavily on opposing assists! Wisconsin had a minor 5 assists in the whole game today, great defense by them.
Original Article: March 16, 2017
So, I’m a bit late this year with these, but, it’s only the first day of the tournament as I write this (teaching 2 courses in 1 semester tends to take up A LOT of one’s time!). Anyways, I tried to use Machine Learning methodologies such as neural networks to make predictions on who is going to win the NCAA tournament this year.
To do this, I trained a neural network model on the last 17 seasons of NCAA regular-season team data.
The first thing that I found was what are the most relevant predictor variables in a team’s NCAA championship success:
- Free Throws Made : 99.99% relevance
- Opponent Assists : 55.86% relevance
- Opponent Field Goal Attempts : 31.44% relevance
- Free Throws Attempted : -83.13% relevance
- Opponent Field Goals Made: -69.2% relevance
It is interesting that the most important factor in deciding whether or not a team wins the NCAA tournament is actually free throw percentage. In other words, schools that have a knack for shooting a high free throw percentage seem to have the highest probability of winning the NCAA tournament. (Point 1 and Point 4 in the list above translates to having a high free throw percentage.) Obviously, with a neural network the relationship between these predictors and the output is not necessarily linear, so other factors could play a strong role as well.
The neural network structure used looked like this:
Now, for the results:
Probability of Winning Tournament
|S. Dakota St.||0.0003186754|
|Fla. Gulf Coast||0.0001308963|
|New Mexico State||0.0001276369|
|East Tenn. St.||0.0001261878|
|Mount St. Mary’s||0.0001258932|
This neural network model predicts that the team with the highest probability of winning the NCAA tournament this year is Villanova with a 92.94% chance of winning, followed by Gonzaga with a 80.77% chance of winning, Baylor with a 71.63% chance of winning, and Arizona with a 55.16% chance of winning.