Virginia Tech sports media class uses analytics to put a method to the March Madness

Published: Mar. 22, 2019 at 2:48 AM EDT
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The world of sports analytics has strong ties to Blacksburg, Virginia.

"Some of the top sports data guys in the country are Virginia Tech alums, like Ken Pomeroy, so the project here is to get kids to really dig into the data, really dig into the analytics, the team sheets, the advanced metrics of every college basketball team in this tournament," said Bill Roth, a professor of practice at Virginia Tech's department of communication.

Roth, the former voice of the Hokies, knows a thing or two about the game. He challenged his class to take a different approach to bracketology.

"This was a lot of fun," said Jared Grinde, a student in Roth's Intro to Sports Media class. "I've never looked at a bracket like I did this one. I've never looked at all the statistics of NCAA and each team individually."

The assignment required students to select a Final Four where the combined seed total could be no lower than eight, making everyone think a little deeper about picking an upset.

"How do I even try to think about that when I'm going through a bracket?" wondered Emily Maher, another student in the class. "And I feel like everyone says that every year, like how do I do that? But to me, that's kind of been my biggest pause. Like, what crazy thing could happen this year?"

The class consensus selected Duke, Gonzaga, Tennessee and North Carolina to make it to the Final Four.

"They learn to use their head and not their heart," Roth said. "I think all of these people would have picked Virginia Tech to advance all the way to the Final Four if they were going with their hearts, but when you look at the numbers, you just see, why North Carolina, or why Duke."

Last year's class, however, selected Virginia to win it all, so some students are waiting to see this year's results before committing to their methods.

"I liked it," said Sam Rodgers. "It was a new approach and as far as next year, I'm gonna have to wait and see 'til after the results come out and see how well it worked."