Professors Find Statistical Method to Predicting Teams in March Madness


MACON, GA., – Mercer University professor Dr. Allen Lynch and University of North Florida professor Dr. Jay Coleman have discovered the method to March Madness.

The two business statistics professors put what they teach in the classroom to work predicting which NCAA men’s Division I basketball teams will get an at-large bid to the season-ending tournament. In 2001, their statistical model, known as the “Dance Card,” correctly picked 64 out of the tournament’s 65 teams in the tournament.

Each year as the basketball season winds down, talk heats up about which teams are locks, losers and “on the bubble.” The Dance Card gives basketball fans a heads-up on what they can expect when the tournament tips off. The professors have developed a Web site at that will provide regular updates on who’s in and who’s not in the weeks leading up to the tournament.

Lynch is assistant professor of economics and quantitative methods at Mercer University’s Stetson School of Business and Economics. Coleman is the Richard deRaismes Kip Professor of Operations Management & Quantitative Methods, and Chair of the Department of Management, Marketing, and Logistics, at the University of North Florida.

Although they have been tracking their formula results since 1994, Lynch and Coleman first published their Dance Card formula in 2001 in the Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences journal “Interfaces.” The Dance Card formula was derived by Coleman and Lynch as an estimate of the decision rule that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses when picking the teams that will get at-large bids to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Using the decisions of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee from the years 1994 through 1999, and 42 pieces of information (e.g. RPI rankings, number of wins and losses, conference records, etc.) for all teams that were candidates for at-large selections in those years, Coleman and Lynch devised the Dance Card formula as an estimate of which pieces of information were most important to the Selection Committee, and the weights that the Committee placed on those pieces of information.

The Dance Card formula suggests that only six pieces of information about each team are highly important in determining whether it gets an at-large tournament bid: RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) Rank, Conference RPI Rank, number of wins against teams ranked from 1-25 in RPI, difference in number of wins and losses in the conference, difference in number of wins and losses against teams ranked 26-50 in RPI and difference in number of wins and losses against teams ranked 51-100 in RPI.

From the 1994-2001 period the Dance Card formula predicted 257 of the 274 available at-large tournament slots or 93.8 percent.

Editor’s Note: Media interested in interviewing Lynch and Coleman or having them on air should contact Lance Wallace at (478) 301-4037 or (800) 837-2911. Both can be available on “Selection Sunday.”