March Madness may be the most unpredictable time in college sports, but if the last two tournaments are any indication, here’s what shouldn’t be a surprise:
- Some high seeds failing to perform consistent with their records the rest of the collegiate year,
- Some low seeds delivering the stunning upsets that make the NCAA men’s basketball tournament the dramatic all-eyes-on event it is, and,
- Teams from across the spectrum running out of gas in conference play due to fatigue or nagging injuries.
I want to drill down on this last point: because amid the crush of the three, highest-stakes weeks of the year, these seemingly miniscule issues carry enormous consequences. Avoiding them – or having a shot at avoiding them – is a competitive advantage for those teams savvy enough to leverage the right tools and analytics to seize it.
And for teams on the bubble, that can translate to March Madness glory and all that comes with it – including revenue.
One area savvy teams will deploy data for an edge: recovery.
Both season-long and in the immediate-term after back-to-back-to-back conference tournament games.
I’ve written previously on fixture congestion in the Premier League and consequences of bruising schedules on athlete health and performance. Analyzing publicly available game and injury data for all teams over the three previous seasons, we surfaced new insights to inform support strategies and protect players and performance by “controlling the controllables.”
While use of data to prepare for the emotional and physical turnaround in March Madness is still in its relative infancy, there’s a well-developed pathway for it on the college football side, where we’ve worked with programs to look deeply at how data can monitor fatigue, establish a baseline for helping nagging injuries heal faster, and, most importantly, making sure coaches and staff are aware of any changes that need to be made in real time.
We know the proper use of data – in the lead-up to March Madness, through conference tournaments, and in the quick turnaround between rounds, especially as we near The Final Four – will become the norm very soon. And we’re proud to have an ever-expanding circle of NCAA schools who see this opportunity and will be taking best practices learned in football and translating them to basketball with us in the coming years.
Going forward, we expect to see savvy teams advancing in March by arming themselves with data-driven decisions geared to performance, optimization, and recovery. They’ll position themselves to achieve those fractions of improvements, keep that star player on the court one minute longer, eke out one more win and advance to the next round.
But don’t worry, data won’t make March any less mad
Contrary to some fears I hear, rather than reduce March Madness to mathematical modeling – whether that’s in recovery or performance or anyplace else – I’m confident increasing use of data analytics will actually serve the tournament’s beloved tradition of utterly unexpected underdog upsets. Even with the data being used now, when millions of fans tune into the tournaments these next few weeks, they will still be watching something creative, unpredictable, and beautiful.
Unpredictable things happen. People get lucky. There’s still always the chance for a team to get hot. But on the whole, things revert to the mean. Which means teams have got to control the controllables, as best they can. And here’s where data comes in.
On the foundational questions – Do you truly know where your team is at physically? How tired are your players really? – data gives ground truth. What’s more, data is the great equalizer. Whether low seed or high seed, every team has the same opportunity to get better relative to where they’ve been. That’s the difference between going on or going home. Data and data analytics democratize an aspect of the game that can directly impact strategy and outcomes – and the revenue that’s downstream of both.
And because these avenues are available to all, if you’re not using it, you’re losing a competitive edge. As March Madness comes into its closing days, keep an eye out for those teams that have embraced it. You’ll be looking at the future.
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