Ain't Played Nobody: Building an Optimal Schedule to Secure an NCAA Tournament Berth
Each spring, American men’s college basketball teams compete for the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) national championship, determined through a 68-team, single-elimination tournament known as “March Madness” that is among the most popular annual sporting events in North America. Participants in this tournament either qualify automatically, through their conferences’ individual year-end tournaments, or are chosen by a selection committee based on various measures of regular season success. When selecting teams, the committee reportedly values a team's quality of, and performance against, opponents outside of their conference. Since teams have some freedom in selecting who and where to play in these nonconference games, we seek to develop an approach to optimizing this choice. Using historical data, we find the criteria that the committee values most when selecting teams for this tournament. Along with these criteria, we use prior seasons’ success and projected returning players to forecast every team’s strength for the upcoming season. Using the selection criteria and these projections, we develop a tool to help college basketball teams build the optimal nonconference schedule to increase the probability of being invited to the NCAA tournament.