You want to win your March Madness pool, and analytics is going to lead the way. However, analytics is not the only thing you need.
In fact, if you get this other thing wrong, analytics will not help. Unless you’re Biff from Back to the Future Part II, you might as well light your entry fee on fire.
To understand the one thing you must get right to win your March Madness pool, consider an analogy.
Steph Curry walks into a gym. There are a bunch of college players looking to get into the NBA. Steph is feeling generous, so he sets up a contest. Beat Steph in a three point shooting contest, get an NBA rookie contract.
As the greatest shooter to ever grace a basketball court, Steph goes out and sinks 17 of 25 three point shots, an amazing mark. Can any college kid beat him?
You might think Steph will certainly win the contest. However, it depends on the numbers of college kids in the shooting contest.
For every college player that steps up, let’s assume a 95% chance that he makes fewer shots than Steph. If two players enter the contest, the chance that Steph beats both is 0.95 times 0.95. He still has a healthy 90% chance to win the contest.
However, Steph’s odds to win decrease with every additional contestant, as his win probability gets another multiplicative factor of 0.95. If 13 college players participate, the odds are about 50-50 that Steph wins. This goes down to 7.6% with 50 college players.
If you use analytics to enter your March Madness pool, you’re like Steph in this shooting contest. You have great odds to beat any one person.
However, your odds go down with more people in your pool. The bigger the pool, the more likely someone gets lucky and beats you.
Someone like Grandma. She doesn’t know anything about college basketball. However, she’s Catholic, and that matters in 2018.
Grandma has Villanova, the oldest Catholic university in Pennsylvania, as champion. In addition, she’s also friends with Sister Jean and picks Loyola of Chicago to make the Final Four.
When Loyola of Chicago made the Final Four, Grandma got points that no one else gets from the South Region. When Villanova beats Michigan in the finals, Grandma wins her pool. It’s as if Shaq beats Steph Curry in a three point shooting contest.
Here’s the take home message: Do not get in a large pool. For a contest with a single winner, the pool must be less than 100 people. Maximize your odds of winning by getting in a pool of 10 or less.
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