Washington, March 17 (ANI): Sports teams' rankings may predict their chances of winning during the initial stages of any tournament, but they start becoming statistically insignificant as the final round draws near, says a University of Illinois expert.
Sheldon H. Jacobson, a professor of computer science, says that the higher-seeded teams are most likely to beat their lower-seeded opponents in the first three rounds of an NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
He, however, add that once the field has been winnowed to the so-called "Elite Eight" teams, each team's odds of winning are statistically equal, no matter how high or low the teams were initially ranked at the start of the tournament.
"The deeper you get into the tournament, the less effective seeding is in predicting winners," Jacobson says.
Jacobson says that for the 12 teams that comprise the top three seeds in each of the four regional brackets, seeding is an "excellent predictor" of the outcomes of the first three rounds of games with those teams.
"In the first round, the No. 1 seed has beaten the No. 16 seed 100 percent of the time," he says.
"But after the Sweet Sixteen, it is a statistical toss-up as to who wins the remaining games. A team's seeding can be thrown out the window. They really do not give you a good indication of who is going to win the games," he adds.
Jacobson says that the impetus of the study was not to predict brackets or winners in advance of the tournament, but to see if the top three teams' seeding in each bracket is a good predictor of how far they will go in the "Big Dance."
"I have always been surprised that the first seeds seem to do better than the second seeds, who seem to do better than the third seeds, because you would think that there is not really a big difference between the top three seeds from each of the four regions," he says.
As to whether there is a statistically significant difference between what are ostensibly the top 12 teams in the country, he says: "The answer is both 'yes' and 'no'.
There are differences, but it is not a question as to whether they are different; it is a question as to when they are different, based on the rounds of the tournament. Seeds are important, but they start to lose their strength beginning in the Sweet Sixteen round. By the time they reach the Elite Eight, those teams were not statistically different than anyone else in the field."
Despite its weakness as a predictive model, Jacobson doesn't believe the seed-based ranking system used by the NCAA needs to be replaced wholesale.
"The committee has a very challenging job seeding the teams, and the tournament format by design is exciting," he said.
"We are talking about bringing 65 teams together from all the major conferences - the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, PAC-10, ACC and the Big East - and then you have many teams that you rarely see on national television. But it should not change the seeding system, since seeds are not designed to predict the winner of each game, but rather, are based on a resume of performance for an entire season."
An article about Jacobson's observations, which he has written along with graduate student Douglas M. King, will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Gambling Business and Economics.(ANI)