Jordan Sperber Wins $2,000 Grand Prize In Stat Geek Idol 2

First, we asked the amateur stat geeks of the world to submit us up to four pages of insightful, unique analysis about college hoops. (Here’s the invite.) We staked a $2,000 cash prize for the entry that exhibited the best combination of a compelling topic, rigorous analysis, and refined, persuasive presentation. The entries we received came from people of all backgrounds, from students to professors to professionals.

Then, we whittled the number of submissions down to five finalists, which we sent to an esteemed judging panel stocked with consumers and practitioners of basketball analytics. In the end, eight judges read every finalist’s entry, and weighed in with their rankings and feedback: Mark Cuban, Dean Oliver, Ken Pomeroy, John Gasaway, Ben Alamar, Toby Moskowitz, John Stasko, and Jeff Haley. For judge bios, see the original post.

Now, the judges have spoken, and we are happy to crown our champion of Stat Geek Idol 2: Jordan Sperber.

About The Champion: Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68)

First, read Jordan’s winning entry here: Do Matchups Matter In College Basketball?

Jordan’s submission takes a straightforward yet well reasoned look at important questions for which unsubstantiated assumptions are the norm in today’s media narratives. When a great offensive rebounding team plays a very poor defensive rebounding team, for example, what should one expect to happen? If a team is great at offensive rebounding, is it better to play a team that’s terrible at defensive rebounding, or one that’s average?

We’ll leave it to you to read Jordan’s winning entry, and comments are welcome. We’re just excited to see where Jordan’s passion for college basketball analysis takes him in the years ahead. He’s currently a sophomore at Villanova. Besides winning Stat Geek Idol 2, he’s also landed himself a sought-after internship this summer with ESPN’s Stats and Information group.

Jordan’s no flash in the pan, either. As a freshman last year, he also made the finals of Stat Geek Idol 1, and his in-depth submission “A Video Charter’s Guide To The Final Four” was in contention for the $1,000 grand prize.

Complete List Of Finalists

This year’s group of Stat Geek Idol finalists showed a lot of promise, from exploring novel research questions to creating interactive data visualizations. They are listed below in order of their placement in the final judging results.

We’re also calling out the second place finisher specifically, as his entry received several high marks from the judging panel, as well as the second highest average rank by a decent margin. (As it turns out, Greg also made the final round of Stat Geek Idol 1 last year, but the rest of the group were first time finalists.)

First Place:
Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) for Do Matchups Matter In College Basketball?

Second Place:
Greg Matthews
(@StatsInTheWild) for Expected Points And Efficiency

Stephen Shea for Measuring Offensive Balance in College Basketball
Ryan Silvis
for Finding Northwestern A New Coach
Joshua Riddell
(@Joshua_Riddell) for Charting Screens In College Basketball

Judging Breakdown: So Much For Consensus!

What was most interesting about the judging was the wide range of rankings for almost all entries. The table below presents the distribution of the judges’ rankings of all five finalists, with each judge made anonymous as a letter A through H (just click on the table to enlarge it):

Some specific observations of note:

  • Jordan’s winning entry was clearly a favorite, with five of eight judges ranking it as best, yet Judge A saw Jordan’s winning entry as his least favorite
  • However, it should be noticed that based on correlation to the judging group as a whole, Judge A’s rankings were pretty extreme outliers
  • Greg’s second place finish could be described similarly, as five judges thought it was second-best, while two judges rated it as their least favorite
  • Ryan’s third place finish was the most polar: the favorite of two judges, the least favorite of three judges. Go figure!
  • Four of the five finalists received at least one first-place rank
  • All five finalists received at least one fifth-place rank

Overall, we like it when a bunch of smart people (the judges) don’t agree. We do feel like Jordan is a worthy champion, and that the judging process ended up working well. However, sports analysis is a complex world and there’s rarely ever a cut and dry “right answer” or universally compelling topic. As the judges’ feedback shows, when it comes to judging Stat Geek Idol, opinions and assessments vary widely. We’re perfectly OK with that.

So What’s Next?

In closing, we wanted to lay out some thoughts about where we think the Stat Geek Idol competition could go from here. We’ve now run two iterations of this contest, and really enjoy the fact that people are generating interesting and novel college hoops analysis for it.

We’ve been lucky enough to turn our passion for sports data and prediction into a successful business, and we view Stat Geek Idol as our way of giving back to people who are in a similar position as we were once. Way back in 1999 you could find our original founder, Mike Greenfield, sequestered away in his dorm room on a Saturday night, writing Perl scripts to scrape basketball stats off of Yahoo! and designing his own power ratings system.

It seems to us like the next steps in improving the contest could involve the following:

  • More time? Set deadlines months, if not a year, in advance, and give contestants a ton of time to prepare their submissions. If needed, they would have time to explore a few different topics in relative depth, and settle on the most promising one for their SGI submission. This would also give us more time to spread the word about the contest.
  • More data? Work to make a robust historical data set for college basketball available to all contestants. Complete, reliable historical college basketball data isn’t the easiest to gather, and not providing data likely biases the contest toward contestants with access to it, either because they have connections or because they happen to have decent computer programming skills. (Although if you want to go far in sports data analytics, you better get some computer programming skills!)
  • More guidance and iteration? A lot of SGI entries we read elicit a somewhat common response internally: “Wow, this seems like a really good idea, but it could use some more [polish / focus / historical testing / some other tweak].” Instead of just having contestants submit an entry once, we could have an initial weed-out stage, then provide feedback and mentorship on how to improve a finalist entry for its final submission…and, of course, more time for a finalist to iterate on his/her entry.
  • More distributed prize structure? We’re not entirely convinced that a winner-take-all prize structure is the most effective approach. Maybe some contestants who are good, and would have a reasonable shot to win it, could get discouraged thinking that their odds to take home the grand prize are too low. Maybe cash isn’t even the most effective motivator we could offer.
  • More sports? Of course, we could always run Stat Geek Idol for more than just college basketball.

If you’re got any thoughts or opinions on how we can improve the contest, please let us know in the comments below.

Congratulations Jordan, and thanks to all of the enterprising stat geeks who submitted an entry to Stat Geek Idol 2, as well as to all of the very busy judges who volunteered their time! As John Gasaway put it best on Twitter: