I (still) think I can beat Bing Predicts.
I was fairly confident I can take down Microsoft's forecasting engine by picking the winner of this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament.
Before Sunday's games, the day after 'Nova's huge loss, I was ahead of Bing by four games.
To prepare, I purposely avoided most of the endless chatter of TV, radio and online experts' predictions, as well as tips on how to select the perfect bracket, because it's really an inexact science. The odds of that are 1 in 9 quintillion, which as I've pointed out before, looks like this: 9,000,000,000,000,000,000.
Instead, I'm testing my knowledge -- and luck -- against Bing. Man vs. Machine, if you will. Why? Well, last year, despite my bracket being busted by the second day, I correctly chose two Final Four teams, compared with only one for Bing.
Eventually, we both ended up losing -- Villanova won the national title in a last-second buzzer beater for the ages. As I mentioned, Bing gave Villanova a 74 percent chance to repeat as champs, while I took Duke to win its second title in three seasons. Besides, according to Vegas, I was coolly playing the odds: Duke is 5-to-1 favorite to win, compared with what was 8-to-1 for Villanova.
This is (still) WAR!
So why do we turn into March Madness maniacs? The NCAA tourney is among the most widely followed sporting events in the country. More than 40 million Americans will fill out brackets this year for pots totaling $10.4 billion, according to the American Gaming Association. Nearly 24 million of those brackets will come from office pools at work, said Andy Christmas, vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. This year's tournament could cost employers as much as $2.1 billion in lost wages due to distracted workers, he said.
Many may use Bing's bracket, which is designed to help non-basketball fans look smart. Last year, the bracket fared better than 70 percent of the record-setting 13 million brackets in ESPN.com's popular competition.
This year, nearly 19 million brackets, a new record, are entered in ESPN's contest, the sports network said Thursday. As of Saturday morning, there were only 164 perfect brackets remaining in ESPN's contest -- that's 0.000008 of all brackets.
Then after Villanova lost, nine perfect brackets were left, ESPN spokesman Kevin Ota said. That quickly went to zero once Xavier upset Florida State.
As for Bing, after all of its millions of data points, using 15 years of NCAA statistics, analytics and search terms frequencies, Bing played it pretty safe (my word) this year by picking 'Nova, the tourney's top overall seed, to win the championship again.
"They're a very strong and efficient team built to make another long run," Walter Sun, a Bing Predicts data scientist, told me during a chat last week as 'Nova had 31-3 record when the tourney began.
As you can see with my bracket, I was riding with Duke, which last week won four games in four days to collect its conference tournament championship.
"I just think Duke is on fire right now, and when it comes to the tourney, I try to pick a team that's on a roll," I told Bing's Sun last week. "I personally think it's a curse to be a No. 1 seed."
In fact, I ended up picking all four of the tourney's No. 2 seeds (Duke, Arizona, Louisville and Kentucky) to make the Final Four. Bing, interestingly, did the same, with the exception of Villanova. Now it's pick to win it all is out of the Big Dance.
Turns out my pick to be the champion is gone, too.
Now we both still have Arizona and Kentucky to make the Final Four (We both had Louisville, which also lost on Sunday).
Previously, I thought brackets are won or lost on the first two days of the tournament, and that was where Bing and I had differed vastly. For example, in the battle between "smart" schools, Bing said West region No. 9 seed Vanderbilt had a 57 percent chance to beat No. 8 seed Northwestern, was making its first NCAA tourney appearance EVER.
Well, I was right. I won opening round games Thursday thanks to Northwestern and Norte Dame barely winning and Virginia ending North Carolina-Wilmington's Cinderella story. Pardon my (then) humblebrag, but I lost only one game Thursday, while Bing lost five as the engine picked Maryland and Nevada to win.
And, although I lost four games Saturday, I remained ahead of Bing. And with Villanova now out, I thought I stood a good chance of beating the machine.
Until Duke's loss, and seeing South Carolina celebrate like this:
But I have some some hope I can beat Bing as we head to the Sweet 16. Still, I want to do this to my bracket:
And, Sun is confident Bing will get the best of me in the end, and also benefit fans using its picks for some advice.
"We hope that our data matches their intuition," he said. "And for those who really don't know basketball, but want to play for the fun of it, use it as a guide because they just might win."
First published March 16, 5 a.m. PT.
Update, March 19 at 9:00 p.m.: Recaps where the brackets stand after fourth day of the tournament.
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