Predictive Analytics in Action: Can You Predict the Outcome of the March Basketball Tournament?

It’s that time of the year again, the time when football furor dies down and sports fans hungrily turn their eyes to the basketball court in anticipation of the Big Dance. Eagerly anticipating the arrival of the popular men’s college basketball tournament, water coolers everywhere will be dominated by talks of brackets, star players, betting pools, parties, and the games that will define the best and brightest in college men’s basketball.

We all know that analytics can drive the enterprise to success, but analytics play an equally essential role in sports. Teams looking to gain the ultimate competitive advantage are now turning to data scientists for insight. Everyone from GMs to fans recognize the value of thorough predictive analytics in enabling the perfect player, the perfect play, even the perfect win.

Picture a college basketball bracket as a data set, waiting to be unlocked and dissected into accurate predictions regarding the outcome of each game. Now picture taking that water cooler conversation and turning it into $15,000 in cash.

Intel has teamed up with Kaggle and its vast network of data scientists to create the March Machine Learning Mania competition. In this tournament prediction challenge, teams will go through two stages:  one, build and test the model against the last five tournaments, two, predict the outcome of the 2014 tournament. Kaggle is providing participants with data on the past two decades of college men’s basketball, but utilizing external data is encouraged. This could range from tournament seeds to individual player stats, from geographical factors to social media insights. The team to develop the closest prediction will be handed their sizeable cash prize once the tournament has ended.

As business continues to embrace data-driven thinking, it’s important to remember analytics can enable far more than the enterprise.  The power of data is realized in the hands of those who depend upon it; if basic stats can give the upper hand in a good-natured sporting contest, imagine the capabilities of a finely tuned algorithm churning through volumes of structured data. Therein lies an opportunity for a more exciting sports experience–and if done correctly, a nice chunk of change.

Look around you and think about your colleagues. The ones who swoon over Hadoop, who get overzealous when you talk about data center upgrades, who are happy to talk predictive tools over lunch. Who will be your point guard? Your center? Who will sink that last-minute three from half court to win you the game? Now is your chance to build the data dream team and win at college basketball before the tournament has been won.

Those of us in the IT Center think IT professionals should have a leg up on this contest. But hurry, cause the buzzer on this contest will sound before tourney tip-off on March 15th.