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    Power to the people

    by Ken Pomeroy on Friday, November 11, 2011


    Suppose you wanted to produce the best guess of how many points UNC freshman forward James McAdoo will score tonight. How would you do this? I suppose one could spend some time and figure out a reasonable estimate of minutes played for McAdoo and then estimate what a freshman of his stature normally produces in terms of point per minute. Then make some adjustments for pace and the offensive usage of his teammates. After a little work, I think I could come up with an estimate I was comfortable with.

    Only, I lack self-esteem and find myself questioning my methods all the time. So I’m not confident that would be the true expectation for McAdoo’s point total. Really what I would want to do is ask dozens of informed college basketball fans what they think the answer is and take an average. Some people would be more informed than others. Some might give outlandish responses, but because we are dealing with a group of people with interest in the subject, we’d get a lot of good answers. The effect of the outliers would be minimized and we’d be left with the signal. And ideally, the best answer.

    As you might have gathered from the previous post, I am a believer in the wisdom of the crowd. The collective wisdom of a well-informed group is going to produce more accurate predictions than an individual in the long run. That’s why it’s nearly impossible for an individual to beat NFL point spreads over a long period of time. The crowd producing the data that forms an NFL point spread is very large.

    It’s also why a point spread will be more accurate than a ratings system over time. (You can track that phenomena for college hoops on this page.) The power of my computer is overwhelmed by the knowledge of thousands of people incorporating their own information collectively. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still proud of my computer. It provides a great estimate of team strength in most cases. But it’s a cold, unfeeling machine, incapable of incorporating emotional factors, injuries, and other unexpected circumstances that occur on a daily basis. (Although, when injuries do occur, you can get some excellent insight on how much that injury affects a team by comparing the difference between the point spread of an upcoming game and my prediction for it.)

    Right now, not much is done to take advantage of the wisdom of the crowd in college hoops. Of course, finding informed fans, then asking them a question and waiting for a response can be time consuming. Plus, I’m socially awkward. I might as well just do the estimate myself. But if the concept of the wisdom of the crowd is correct, a well-informed crowd is going to consistently provide better predictions than I would.

    In going to a member-based site, one of the benefits I’m looking forward to most is that we now have a group of well-informed fans from whom we can tap knowledge from somewhat instantly. Perhaps James McAdoo’s point total tonight is not of sufficient interest. But I have to think there will some fun things during the season that we do want an answer to and that will be useful to the basketball community at large. Things that we would have no easy way of otherwise setting an expectation for. When will Reggie Johnson play his first game? How many technical fouls will Bob Huggins get this season? What will Belmont’s average margin of victory in conference play be?

    The idea is an experiment and at some point - hopefully soon - I’ll get that experiment going. Whether it fails or succeeds, we’ll learn something. Personally, I got McAdoo for seven points tonight. But surely, you all could do better.