Md. students crunching the numbers to choose NCAA Basketball Tournament champion

- It is maddening this time of year to try and predict who will advance in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Roughly 70 million brackets are entered every year into various tournament contests and pools.

Everyone has their own method for picking the madness – from which team is on a hot streak to who has better looking uniforms. But for one class at Blair High School in Silver Spring, the field of 68 brings with it a lot of excitement and a lot of work.

David Stein's sports statistics class has turned sports' greatest tournament into his semester's math project.

“Sports teams, professional teams and college teams are using analytics, high-level mathematics to figure out the effectiveness of decisions and being able to evaluate decisions that the teams have made,” Stein said. “Math has become a really crucial element in sports.”

In this class, there is a lot of math in the madness.

“Each team looked at what variables, what factors they think would be most significant,” said one student in Stein’s class.

Some of the statistics they analyze and take into consideration – offensive and defensive efficiency, field goal percentage, a team's win rate and their opponent's win rate, a coach’s NCAA Tournament appearances and the Rating Percentage Index, also known as RPI.

These kids take this competition and the trash talk seriously. The photoshops, the blogs, the smack talk – it is all part of the effort to make math engaging for a generation of high schoolers who aren't known for their attention spans.

Like any group of sports statisticians, these teams have a website to tout their prognostications.

“What we are doing, we don’t necessarily know the answer going into it, so it’s a lot more interesting and sometimes the data doesn’t make sense, but we have to struggle with that and try to figure it out,” said another student. “It’s a lot more real world instead of just living in a textbook like a lot of other math classes.”

The homework isn't bad either. They get to watch games as part of their assignment.

“We have come a long way in math education, particularly here at Blair, in figuring out ways to really get the kids to engage their math, use it in complicated situations where there aren't easy answers,” said Stein. “It makes for not only a more useful education, but a much more exciting and engaging education.”

Right now, these students have North Carolina with the best chance of winning it all this year.

To see all of their predictions, go to fivethirtyblair.wordpress.com.

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