If you were to fashion an Internet college basketball ratings guru, what qualities would you choose? He'd be young, yes, and Silicon Valley-based. He'd hold a degree in some statistical field like mathematical and computational science. Considering which school was ranked No. 1 as of Monday, why not make him a Stanford graduate?
Meet Mike Greenfield, 23 and Stanford '00, whose one-man operation, teamrankings.com, is a must-visit for folks filling out NCAA tournament pool sheets. "I developed this system when I was in college, working with collegeinsider.com," says Greenfield, who has a day job as a software engineer for an online money-transfer service in Palo Alto, Calif. "In December 1999, I launched my own site."
Teamrankings is true to its name. All 319 men's and 316 women's teams are ranked on a numerical scale. While Greenfield refuses to divulge his rating formula, he does allow that margin of victory, the site of all games (i.e., home or away) and the ranking of a team's opponents figure prominently. Greenfield believes his method is an improvement on the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which the NCAA uses to help determine entry into and seeding for the tournament. "The RPI averages your opponents' strengths," says Greenfield, "so playing the 149th- and 151st-best teams is equal to playing Numbers 1 and 300. I look at the former pair of games as being easier than the latter."
On teamrankings's " NCAA Tournament Odds" link Greenfield projects the field, each school's chances of advancing and each school's margin of victory or defeat against every potential tournament foe. (That's 4,032 games broken down.) He sees his alma mater as having a 50.00% chance of making the Final Four while giving Winthrop, the champion of the Big South Conference and lowest ranked tournament team, 0.00% chance of completing the journey to Minneapolis. "It's not that they have no chance to make the Final Four," says Greenfield of the Eagles. "It's just that, statistically, it's in the thousandths-of-a-decimal-point range."
Reader beware: Greenfield's Final Four last year (based on a combination of his formula and his feelings) were Stanford, Temple, Texas (all second-round losers) and eventual champion Michigan State. He didn't win the informal pool he runs for friends. Why? "I haven't figured out a way to measure psychology," he says.