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The madness is in the details

The madness is in the details

Cara Gfroerer ’24 March 21, 2024
Filled out your bracket yet? These students have, as part of a class project that teaches the tools to help understand outcomes in sporting events.

Using the excitement of March Madness, assistant professor Daniel Yang is teaching his students about using data to predict outcomes in his new course, Introduction to Sport Analytics.

The UD School of Education and Health Sciences professor is bringing together computing and basketball brackets. Students learn computer coding techniques and how to use the program RStudio, which automates some of the complex analysis that will help students estimate the NCAA tournament outcomes.

First Four at UD Arena
Who will win? That's what students in a sport analytics class are trying to figure out. (photo at UD Arena by Kennedy Kish ’24)


Students in Yang’s class choose their own variables, such as a team’s winning percentage or its defensive rating — the efficiency at which it prevents the other team from scoring points — to project who they believe is going to win the men’s basketball tournament. Each student then fills out a bracket using these results in hopes of besting their classmates.

Ryan Packard, a senior health and sport science major, said this among his favorite class assignments of the semester. 

“Being at a basketball school, it’s interesting to see where Dayton stands in the rankings compared to other schools,” Packard said. 

Packard is on the baseball team at UD, but his interest in basketball is strong; he played basketball in high school and enjoys watching games, especially in the winter, he said. 

Another student in the class, Connor McDonough, a junior sport management major, said this class has given him the opportunity to further his already strong interest in basketball. 

“I love watching UD basketball. It’s one of the reasons I decided to go to UD,” McDonough said. 

McDonough’s mother, Kendryn Bonder McDonough ’95, and grandfather, Ken Bonder ’65, both loved attending Flyer basketball games. Both have vivid memories of the overpowering sound of cheering and the atmosphere of excitement. The McDonough family does an annual March Madness bracket, and each year the friendly competition brings everyone together. 

This year, McDonough hopes his new skills have given him an edge over his sports-loving family. 

“It’s been really cool to be able to connect coding to sports management,” McDonough said. “I’m used to learning about the business aspect of sports, but analytics always interested me, too.”

“It’s been really cool to be able to connect coding to sports management.”

Using knowledge from their project, Packard shared some strategies for filling out a winning basketball bracket. He likes to focus on a team’s win percentage, defensive rating and points scored to calculate what the odds are that a team will win. 

basketball player shoots
Fouls — and free throws — were important stats in this matchup between Boise State and Colorado State at UD Arena Wednesday. (photo by Jayonna Johnson ’25)

But numbers will only get you so far, said Packard, as it’s nearly impossible to fill out a perfect bracket because the tournament is known for big upsets.

This week the students will project their Final Four teams and overall champion. 

“We’re all wondering whose predictions are going to be right,” McDonough said. “Whoever is [right] gets bragging rights over everyone else.”

Packard has predicted North Carolina as his winner, while McDonough has his sights set on Houston. 

May the best data analyst win!

Students on press row