Over the past decade, we have published quant fact predictions based on our research “Who Will Win the Big Game: A Psychological & Mathematical Approach.” Our published results have been correct about 65% of the time, often picking underdogs.

Our work has been particularly successful for college basketball and the Final Four (and we have been published in the New York Times and Wall St. Journal). 

Let’s see what the data says for this year’s Final Four.

Big Game Experience 

Surprisingly, none of this year’s Final Four combatants have appeared in the Final Four over the past few years. Some sharp analysts liked the “value” on North Carolina because they have reached the Final Four several times over the past three years. However, North Carolina was upset by the surging Auburn team. Edge: None.

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Consistency 

In any game or sport, players like to get into a certain rhythm. Our work in sports psychology keys in on this fact by studying various consistency factors. Today’s college hoops game has a larger focus on the three-point shot, and the data backs this up. Basketball teams with a higher three-point FG% have gone on to win the majority of championship games. Edge: Michigan State (late game) and Virginia (early game). 

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Defense 

Even with the increasing usage of three-point shots, defense is still important to winning the big game. Here, we use defensive field-goal percentage as our proxy for defense. Edge: Texas Tech and Virginia. 

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Leadership 

Leaders on a team seem to be able to “sense blood,” especially as athletes approach championships. In college basketball, we study the number of AP All-Americans (first and second team) on each of the four finalists. Texas Tech and Michigan State both have one All-American, while Auburn and Virginia do not.

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As a side bar, co-author Dr. Jay Granat highlights Michigan State’s camaraderie on the court. This is an intangible that is hard to quantify, but we do note that team chemistry is a huge factor! Still, we have to go with the numbers and the quant facts call this even. Edge: None. 

Focus on the Basics 

In a close game — and even at the highest levels of competition — the results of the game can come down to the simple basics of the game. Interestingly, in every sport we have studied, there is a relationship between winning the big game and a “focus on the basics.” In college basketball, free-throw percentage is related to winning the big game. Edge: Michigan St. and Virginia.

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Summary 

Our “Who Will Win” quant facts predict that Michigan State and Virginia will advance to the title game. We’ll publish another article after Saturday’s Final Four games. Enjoy the games! 

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Carlton Chin, a graduate of MIT, is a fund manager and quant researcher focused on portfolio strategy and sports analytics. Carlton has been an adjunct Professor at Rowan University, and he has worked with various sports organizations, including the Sacramento Kings. Carlton has been quoted by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and ESPN.
 

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Dr. Jay Granat, psychotherapist, named one of America’s Top 10 Mental Gurus by Golf Digest, has worked with Olympic athletes & sports organizations. A former university professor, he has authored several books on sport psychology — and has appeared on ESPN, CBS & Good Morning America.