March Madness: Breaker of hearts and brackets all over the U.S., is also a wellspring of eternal hope.
As the 2016 NCAA Men’s Division basketball tournament progresses, favorites fall, underdogs triumph and family, friends and co-workers share in every unexpected twist and turn – especially as the round of Sweet 16 begins Thursday, March 24.
Bing, the official bracketologist of the tournament as a partner of the NCAA, is now 33-15 in its predictions, which is close to its record at this point last year, 35-13. (Ultimately, Bing got 73 percent of its March Madness picks right in 2015 to ascend to the top 30 percent of all brackets.) While Bing Predicts – like many around the country – chose Michigan State to make it to the Final Four, three of its finalists are still in the tournament, which is good news for those who made the same picks, as the field continues to dwindle. But unlike the roughly 25 percent of the country who chose the Spartans to win the semifinal and final, Bing predicted they would not win a game in the final weekend.
While upsets are supposed to be surprising, Bing correctly picked four of them opening weekend, including Arkansas-Little Rock over Purdue, Gonzaga beating Seton Hall and VCU winning against Oregon State. And even if your brackets are already a bust, it can still be fun to see what’s ahead, because Bing takes in every result and revises its model in a dynamic bracket.
“We update the model dynamically with each round because in sports predictions, we can’t expect to be right on every individual game,” says Walter Sun, a partner data scientist and development manager for Bing, which has made predictions on big events such as the Academy Awards as well as other sports moments such as the pro football playoffs and championship. “With upsets, brackets change, but that’s our bread and butter. We publish an initial bracket at the beginning which is used to compare against other brackets completed before the tournament begins, but then we create separately a continuously updated bracket which makes predictions incorporating the latest results for each new round. We update it as games finish so you can always see the latest predictions on Bing.com.”
Before brackets were set on March 17, fans might’ve used Bing to help fill out their brackets. The experience this year delivered several options in choosing winners in each round and each division.
“We know that there are a lot of different ways people go about filling out their brackets,” says Steve Kane, a product marketing manager on the Bing product marketing team who specializes in sports and elections Moments in Time. “This really simplifies the process for a casual fan. There are 9.2 quintillion different ways to fill out brackets. We give you a very strong educated guess, based on a search engine that’s had a strong track record. Some go by a gut feel, some take their favorite team all the way. But they’re also looking at historical trends as to how the tournament plays out, specific statistics, scoring, free throw percentages, etc. In order to account for a wide vast decision-making process, we wanted to build an experience for all those different ways – and give people a level of confidence in those choices.”
Not only will Bing suggest to you who’s going to win, but it’ll also give you a reason why, including specific statistics on the strengths and weaknesses of each team, such as an effective defense, consistency, discipline or high-scoring offense.
Sun says that Bing was able to build anonymized and aggregated web and social data into its models, as well as more than 10 years of training data from game statistics provided by the NCAA. The machine learned models can look at patterns and learn, such as teams in 2016 that resemble other teams in the past and find other important features which can determine success, like those that have lost by more than 30 points in a regular season game have never won the tournament. Bing’s models can understand changes that might give teams advantages, too.
And for those using the Bing app on their smartphones, the mobile version of the March Madness experience gave fans a game-like way to fill brackets based on factors such as mascots, team colors and stats using swiping motions that may seem familiar to those who use dating apps like Tinder.
Fans could also auto-fill brackets with a combination of Bing’s choices and their own – and then export them to the NCAA (by the March 17 deadline, that is).
Searching for “March Madness” on Bing will immediately bring up the Bing March Madness experience, which opens into a schedule view that’s new this year. At a glance, you can see the latest match-ups and get bite-sized nuggets you can take to the water cooler (or wherever you’re talking about the tournament).
A new carousel design brings the tournament to life, delivering vivid information on each game. With Bing, fans have a home base so they know when games are, who’s playing who, and their stats, and see an embedded live stream provided by the NCAA. (Another way to keep up with all the action is to watch the games through a new Windows 10 app, NCAA March Madness Live.)
The robust experience Bing offers is a direct reflection on the intense interest this time of year from fans.
“We know people are searching for March Madness,” says Kane. “It’s a cultural phenomenon in the U.S., and we want to be able to fuel users’ passions to provide rich immersive experiences, and then help them take action.”
One example of this: Bing employees kicked off the month of madness by breaking a Guinness Book of World Records: the most people filling out a sports bracket simultaneously in the same room.
“We have built the experience with the sports enthusiast and casual fan in mind, keying in on real consumer insights and delivering a smarter bracket-building experience,” says Emily Pearce, a product marketing manager with Bing. “Fans can also keep up with teams, schedules and matchups throughout the tournament.” And in partnership with retail Microsoft Stores across the country, visitors can try out the Bing March Madness experience on retail demo devices in stores now.
Research, she says, shows that most people follow up to five teams at the most, which leaves a lot of teams that they don’t know much about. With Bing, “Everyone has an opportunity to get an edge with bracket-building and at-a-glance insights throughout the tournament,” Pearce says.
“We’re OK with people going with gut and intuition, but let us help you with our statistical insights,” Sun says. “March Madness is the time when tons of people participate in filling out brackets. We can help people who aren’t fanatics.”
“We tried to give something to everyone,” says Kelly Freed, program manager for Bing Sports. “If you aren’t a huge fan or if this is your first time, we wanted to make it fun and easy, without being overwhelming.”