In an effort to keep his students engaged and combat their “Senioritis”, math teacher William Hawkins assigned his AP Statistics class with a project that put a statistical spin on March Madness. Creating brackets for the NCAA tournament is a popular activity at LM, and Hawkins’s project required his students to do just that. The assignment was to create a bracket and enter it in the American Statistical Association’s “Statsketball” competition. Their brackets had to be created based on some form of statistical analysis and pertain to material Hawkins had taught them in class.
Hawkins’ students were required to participate in the “Pick ‘em Upset Challenge,” which involved the creation of a bracket predicting the winners of each of the 32 first-round games in the March Madness tournament. In this challenge, students were awarded points for correct choices as well as for seed upset predictions. Their brackets were reviewed by a panel of judges from the American Statistical Association that selected a winner based on total number of points as well as strategy.
One hundred seven high school students entered the “Pick ‘em Upset Challenge,” and the champion was LM’s own Naveen Gooneratne ’17, who earned a total of 79 points, correctly selecting 29 winners and obtaining 21 upset points. His winning bracket was designed based on data from the websites RotoGuru, which contains information regarding the results of the 2016 March Madness tournament and FiveThirtyEight, which provides information about past games that were not a part of March Madness. He focused primarily on the data from the previous March Madness to construct his bracket, but relied on statistics from other games when that data indicated no preference as to the winning team.
Gooneratne’s statistical analysis included analysis of “the matchup by seed, the probability of an upset for that seed, points given for upsets in those seeds, expected points for correctly picking an upset in each seed, the probability that the better seed wins, the points given if the better seed wins, and finally, the expected points gained when the better seed wins.”
As a prize for his victory, Gooneratne received a membership to the American Statistical Association, a t-shirt, and 200 dollars. Reflecting on his win, Gooneratne says, “When I found out I was very surprised, excited, and honored.” He had not expected to win, especially considering this was his first attempt at a March Madness bracket, because he is “not big into basketball or the whole March Madness event.”
Gooneratne is happy to have had the opportunity to compete in the “Statsketball” competition and would like to “shout-out to my stats teacher Mr. Hawkins for both motivating me to join the competition, and also for teaching me statistics this year as I definitely would not have been able to win this competition without his help.” His win has set the bar high for Hawkins’s future AP Statistics classes, should he choose to assign this project again.