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Wait! Wait! Don’t Enter Your Office Pool ‘Til You’ve Read This…

- March 18, 2009

Help is on the way from, of all places, the Wall Street Journal, which is now running a sports page. In separate articles published over the last several days, they’ve presented research findings that indicate:

* That some teams are consistently lucky. The WSJ cites the work of basketball statistician (there has to be a word for that, like sabremetrician for baseball statisticians) Ken Pomeroy, who has calculated the percentage of games a team “should” have won based on its performance and the strength of its opponent, here. The residual between that estimate and the teams actual winning percentage expresses, Pomeroy argues, how lucky or unlucky the team has been. By this measure, the nation’s luckiest tournament team this year has been Michigan State, followed in order by LSU, Louisville, Florida State, and Wake Forest. Lest you scoff, the two luckiest teams heading into last year’s tournament were Tennessee and Vanderbilt, each of which struggled in the tournament.

* That some teams are overseeded and some are underseeded. The WSJ has tracked the final score of every NCAA tournament game since 1985 to establish a baseline of how close any game should be, based on the seeds of the two teams. For example, if a #3 seed plays a #14 seed, the #3 should be expected to win by 11 points or so. With these baselines established, the WSJ has determined the extent to which a particular team (say, Kansas) has exceeded the average scoring margin, given its seed. Heading into the 2009 tournament, the teams that have done best by this measure over the years have been Kansas, Kentucky (which didn’t make the tournament this year), Louisville, and Boston College. And the underperformers? In order from the bottom in this year’s crop: Wake Forest, Oklahoma, and Michigan. Click here for a little elaboration.

* That some coaches produce more bang for the buck than others do. Using the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) as the measure of performance over the last three seasons, the WSJ calculated the number of RPI points over 50 (a mediocre score) per million dollars in coach’s salary. By this measure, the worst buys among big-time coaches from 2006 through 2009 were Paul Hewitt, who’s on the hot seat at Georgia Tech, and Dave Leitao, who not so coincidentally has just been fired at the University of Virginia. Some very big names — Jim Calhoun (Connecticut), John Calipari (Memphis), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Rick Pitino (Louisville), and Tom Izzo (Michigan State), are mid-listers. At the top of the list? Oliver Purnell (Clemson), Jamie Dixon (Pitt), Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), and Bruce Pearl (Tennessee). Click here for the full list.

And, as an extra added attraction:

* That you shouldn’t get too excited if the team you’re cheering for is up by one at the half. They’ll probably lose, according to a study by Jonah Berger and Devin Pope of the Wharton School.

UPDATE: Over at his statistics blog, Andrew takes issue with the Berger/Pope analysis.

Okay, now you can put your money down.