How data helped make me a @UW_WBB fan

Kelsey Plum and the Huskies cheer their berth into the Final Four.  Washington and Stanford played in the Lexington Regional Final Sunday, March 27, 2016.  (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Kelsey Plum and the Huskies cheer their berth into the Final Four. Washington and Stanford played in the Lexington Regional Final Sunday, March 27, 2016. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

As with many data geeks, I love baseball.  Other than that, I have not been a huge sports fan – but my love for data and forecasting has drawn me into another sport, and now I must admit to having a bit of a crush on the entire University of Washington Women’s basketball team.

Let’s be clear – I don’t really get the game, so even though I have attended  a few games, since it don’t really understand what is going on – the strategy or the plays – and I find it hard to be that engaged.  But I totally get the game of forecasting, and Nate Silver is one of the best players.  His site fivethirtyeight.com  has become a daily go-to for me – I love the combination of data, forecasting and well-written articles with analysis based on data.  It has some of the best coverage of the presidential campaign.  One of the things I love the most about Nate Silver and his team is their use of feedback loops – they assess their own forecasts against actual results and adjust to make the next round of forecasts better.  So when I saw the interactive March Madness bracket with probabilities for each team to make it to the next round and all the way, adjusted live during games, I could not resist.  How cool is that?!?

As I visited the site daily during the tournament to check out who had made it and how the probabilities of continued success had changed, I noticed the underdog UW Huskies hanging in there against the odds.  Eventually, the rest of Seattle did too.  These women have made it to the final four for the first time in program history.  There are many reasons we become sports fans – the sense of identity in being part of something bigger than yourself, admiration for the skill and hard work it takes to play at a high level, and of course the drama of upsets and the underdog winning.  I particularly love this aspect of sports – that even when the probability is low, as long as it is not 100% against you, you still have a chance.

The UW Huskies are the team in the Final Four with the lowest chance of winning the entire tournament, and I will be watching Sunday evening as they take Syracuse.  Go Dawgs!

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