Almost halfway through the season, anyone can guess the winners of the 2018 Ivy League title and Tournament—but some guesses are better than others.
After making some improvements on our predictive Elo model from last year, we hope to provide some insight as to what past data suggests is a good guess. For those new to our forecasts, the basics of the Elo algorithm are simple: A win gives a team points, a loss subtracts from a team’s points, and a big win yields more points than a close call.
The system was originally created by physicist Arpad Elo to compare chess players, but with our ratings for Division I basketball teams, we can precisely calculate a team’s probability of winning a game.
For example, forecasting for the Lions, our model gives Columbia a 33 percent chance of beating Yale and a 45 percent chance of beating Brown this weekend while on the road. If, after the Light Blue notched back-to-back wins last weekend, you believe the Lions now have “momentum,” you might raise those chances for your own predictions. Our model doesn’t consider “momentum” or “form” in itself, though last weekend did boost the Light Blue’s rating.
When forecasting, it’s also crucial to consider large variables like home-court advantage. With a home record of 5-3 and an away record of 1-10 this season, the Lions are a perfect example, although maybe an extreme one, of the general trend that teams tend to do better at home.
Our model accounts for home-court advantage, so it’s not optimistic about the Lions’ odds outside of New York. On the other hand, Penn, which has gone 6-0 in Ivy play so far, has performed well enough recently to warrant “favorite” status against both Dartmouth and Harvard while traveling this weekend.
With wins from both of those games, Penn could begin to knock teams like Dartmouth out of the running for the Ivy title this weekend. The race for an Ivy League Tournament spot, however, is far from over. Columbia, Brown, and Princeton, last year’s champion, all sit tied for third place, so each could catch up to Harvard for second place by Saturday night.
The Lions have good chances of winning at least one game this weekend, but they should hope to buy themselves as much room for error as possible before next weekend’s showdown against Penn and Princeton.
In any case, this weekend will bring us into the second half of the Ivy League season—a point when all eyes will turn toward the title and tournament. We will keep you posted on the odds around the Ivy league, and in the coming weeks, we will consider each team’s chances of finishing the season with a trophy—probabilistically, of course.