Analysis | The world’s nerdiest NCAA bracket


At the Department of Data, we tend to focus more on scatterplots than bank shots, more on landlines than baselines, more on kitchen utensil polls than spread pick-and-rolls. So we were moderately alarmed when our friend Dan Steinberg, a sports editor who you probably remember as a wildly successful blogger and columnist, suggested we contribute an NCAA men’s tournament bracket to The Washington Post’s reader chat.

When Dan made this request, we were off scouring the planet to bring you the freshest data. We weren’t planning on filing our regular report this week. But then we came up with a metric so deliciously dorky that we couldn’t resist running the numbers.

We decided the team that’s likely to win would, by definition, be the team closest to victory. Like, literally closest to a Victory.

So we looked at 985,397 official place names in the Geographic Names Information System from the U.S. Geological Survey, the same source we used to map animal and alcohol place names. This yielded 77 places with “Victory” in their names, spanning the continent from Victory Gardens, Md., to Victory Swamp, Fla., and on out to Victory Ditch in the Big Sky Country of Montana.

On Tuesday, when we first mapped all 68 teams and wrote code to pinpoint the closest Victory to each of them, we found that 10th-seeded Colorado State was the most likely to win the whole thing. The Rams are so close to Victory they can smell it, perhaps literally. Campus is less than 10 miles away from something called the Victory Irrigation Canal.

After the Rams, the schools next closest to Victory are second-seeded Marquette, third-seeded Kentucky and 11th-seeded Duquesne. If the Rams had lost in the First Four play-in and missed the field of 64, we would have had Marquette topping Kentucky and five-seed Wisconsin in the South and edging out Duquesne in the final.

But the Rams beat Virginia on Tuesday. So now — and you heard it here first — we predict that Colorado State is taking it all.

You’re welcome. And don’t forget to report your winnings to the IRS.

More goofy place name tricks

If you’ve stuck with us through that ridiculous exercise, you might appreciate our previous analysis using the same massive government database. Scroll past the also relevant listing of the collegiest college towns, and you’ll find that we used the same place-name data to pinpoint the most common alcohol-related place names in every state.

Or, if you’re a March Madness mascot fan, we made a similar map that shows places named after animals, rather than alcohol. The Mississippi Catfish and Texas Turkeys are, in our opinion, serious missed mascot opportunities.

But no matter where you are in the country, you usually can’t go wrong with a bear or a beaver.

Howdy! Even on our dark week, lost as we are in the wilds of the statistical jungle, The Department of Data will not pass up an opportunity to badger you for quantifiable queries! What are you curious about: Who bets the most on sports? What’s the most popular mascot in each state? Why are snapping turtle populations so slow to recover from hunting? Just ask!

If your question inspires a column, we’ll send you an official Department of Data button and ID card. This week, a button goes to Steinberg, who tricked us into making this foray into March Madness.


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