Grant Wahl doesn't think UNC will win the NCAA's.
And, well, I can't really argue with that[*]. The eight teams he does list could win it. So could UNC, for that matter. What caught my attention was this:
Three thoughts popped into my head:
- That seems impressive.
- I wonder if I could have done that?
- I wonder if a monkey could have done that?
Well, not completely at random. There are 341 D1 teams; to pick the champion in seven times out of eight given 64 chances is what, 1 in 255,652,912,063? Wahl could mop the floor with your garden variety theoretical monkery. Of course, when picking a potential national champion, you don't really consider all 341 teams. (Well, maybe you do but if so, I have some bad news about the New Jersey Institute of Technology's chances come March.) We'll have to make the challenge a little fairer on the monkey.
Now the easiest thing to do would be just pick the Top 8 teams the week Wahl writes his column. It would indeed be "lame and boring," but as more than one of my ex-girlfriends will be more than happy to tell you, that fits me to a T. So I'm more than happy to take that little algorithm. How would I have done this decade?
Year Team Rank 2000 Michigan St. 11 2001 Duke 8 2002 Maryland 3 2003 Syracuse -- 2004 Connecticut 4 2005 North Carolina 3 2006 Florida 2 2007 Florida 2
But again, Wahl isn't just picking the Top 8. He typically picks 5 of the Top 8: 43 out of 72, between 4 and 6 each year. It's also worth noting he's failed to pick one of the Top 3 teams exactly three times:
Year Team Rank Finish 2003 Connecticut 3 Sweet 16 2004 St. Joseph's 3 Elite 8 2008 North Carolina 1
So let's let our monkey cheat a bit. He'll pick the top three teams, another two from the top eight, and three more from 9th to 20th. That'll give us a reasonable approximation of our SI columnist, at least. Our monkey's got a 21% chance of being as smart as Grant Wahl. Wahl's in the top quintile of monkeys, which has got to be at least a couple of quintiles better than Gregg Easterbrook, for instance.
I might as well take it one step further - how would our intelligently designed monkey have done since 1949? (You know, to pick a year at random and all.) We'll use the closest poll to the tenth of January, since that's typically when Wahl's column is written. The results?
Grant Wahl -- (87.5%) Me (Lame and Boring) 45 (76.2%) Our Monkey 38 (64.4%)