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Student Achievement

Predicting the NCAA Tournament Champion Based on Academics: An Update

By Bryan Toporek — April 04, 2011 1 min read
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So ... it turns out that I owe ProPublica and the Butler University Bulldogs an apology.

A few weeks back, I wrote about ProPublica’s academics-based NCAA bracket, where it predicted an NCAA tournament champion based on whose student-athletes were most successful academically. ProPublica’s bracket had Butler, with an Academic Progress Rate of 1000, winning the entire tournament. (It referred to Butler as “a somewhat unlikely champion.”)

“Somewhat unlikely” didn’t even begin to describe Butler’s would-be run to the title back in mid-March. The eighth-seeded Bulldogs were fighting to become just the second team in NCAA history to make the national championship game as an 8-seed (Villanova won the tournament in 1985 as an 8-seed), and had a date with the top-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers just to get to the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, Butler’s best player from its magical run last season, Gordon Hayward, is busy making an NBA career for himself out with the Utah Jazz.

So, naturally, I included a hint of skepticism in my post addressing Butler’s championship chances, seeing as academics would have no influence on teams in the real NCAA tournament.

And, naturally, I’ve been served a massive helping of humble pie, as Butler managed to make ProPublica’s champion choice look retroactively prophetic.

As someone who didn’t accurately predict a single Final Four team this year, allow me to express my sincerest apologies for doubting Butler’s chances. The Bulldogs’ ridiculous run this year is a welcome reminder that there’s no limit to the beautiful chaos that unfolds every year during the NCAA tournament.

In case you were wondering, the other school contending for the national championship tonight, the University of Connecticut, posted an APR of 930. UConn graduates 25 percent of its African-American basketball players, 50 percent of its white basketball players, and 31 percent of its overall basketball players. (Contrast that with Butler, which graduates 50 percent of its African-American basketball players, 100 percent of its white basketball players, and 83 percent of its overall basketball players.)

So, if your rooting interests for tonight’s game are still undecided ... it’s simply academic to root for Butler.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.