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Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports

An official journal of the American Statistical Association

Editor-in-Chief: Glickman, PhD, Mark

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CiteScore 2016: 0.44

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2015: 0.288
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Building an NCAA men’s basketball predictive model and quantifying its success

Michael J. Lopez
  • Corresponding author
  • Skidmore College – Mathematics and Computer Science, 815 N. Broadway Harder Hall, Saratoga Springs, New York 12866, USA
  • Email:
/ Gregory J. Matthews
  • Loyola University Chicago – Mathematics and Statistics, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Published Online: 2015-02-24 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jqas-2014-0058


Computing and machine learning advancements have led to the creation of many cutting-edge predictive algorithms, some of which have been demonstrated to provide more accurate forecasts than traditional statistical tools. In this manuscript, we provide evidence that the combination of modest statistical methods with informative data can meet or exceed the accuracy of more complex models when it comes to predicting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. First, we describe a prediction model that merges the point spreads set by Las Vegas sportsbooks with possession based team efficiency metrics by using logistic regressions. The set of probabilities generated from this model most accurately predicted the 2014 tournament, relative to approximately 400 competing submissions, as judged by the log loss function. Next, we attempt to quantify the degree to which luck played a role in the success of this model by simulating tournament outcomes under different sets of true underlying game probabilities. We estimate that under the most optimistic of game probability scenarios, our entry had roughly a 12% chance of outscoring all competing submissions and just less than a 50% chance of finishing with one of the ten best scores.

Keywords: basketball; NCAA; predictive modeling; simulations; tournament


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About the article

Corresponding author: Michael J. Lopez, Skidmore College – Mathematics and Computer Science, 815 N. Broadway Harder Hall, Saratoga Springs, New York 12866, USA, Tel.: +9784072221, e-mail:

Published Online: 2015-02-24

Published in Print: 2015-03-01

Citation Information: Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, ISSN (Online) 1559-0410, ISSN (Print) 2194-6388, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jqas-2014-0058. Export Citation

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