When there’s algebra and a room full of guys who can’t find a date, plus computers and pizza, look out…
In 2009, Chartier and his Davidson students began developing a bracket program that quickly yielded remarkable results, even though many of the participants had no interest in college basketball. The program can be adjusted for losses early and late in the season, as well as for margins of victory and defeat.
Chartier insists that his program works. Several of his students have finished in the 90th percentile of ESPN’s annual contest, which drew more than eight million entries last year. Three students finished in the 96th to 99th percentiles.
But the outputs are only as good as the inputs. Last year, one student accurately predicted 14th-seeded Harvard’s win over third-seeded New Mexico but was beaten by more than 98 percent of the ESPN entries. “You have to be a bit careful there,” Chartier said.
The underlying math — applied linear algebra — is similar to what the Bowl Championship Series used to produce its rankings, but with a twist. Instead of incorporating past results, Chartier’s math helps predict how the tournament teams will be ranked and how they might fare. The software allows for either a Colley ranking, which is a linear system that uses only wins and losses, or a Massey ranking, which integrates the scores of the games.
For most of the class, only basic math skills were required to follow along, but math majors were also challenged.
“We may be home to Steph Curry,” Chartier said, referring to Davidson’s former point guard, “but also some major bracketology.”
And when those nerds are done with this project, could they please create a computer program that accurately picks just 60% of NFL games so we can all be filthy rich?