Data Science Says: Yes, UP can win the 81st UAAP Men’s Basketball Crown

Robert Ramos
December 4, 2018

In what is perhaps the most compelling story of Philippine collegiate basketball for the second decade of the 21st century, the UP Fighting Maroons, is in the Finals of the 81st season of the University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP). The last time UP was there was in 1986.

The story of how the State U got to the Finals is one full of grit, determination, and heart. To the thunderous roar of “UP Fight!” and the school’s unique signature Filipino cheer, UP has beaten every single one of the best of Philippine collegiate basketball. The last battle was against powerful Adamson University that ended in overtime; described by all who witnessed it as one of the most epic games any basketball lover will see.

But to get to a historic Championship, its first after 32 years, UP has to defeat a team considered as one of the most dominating ever to play the hardcourts of the UAAP: the Ateneo de  Manila University Blue Eagles. The defending champions bring to the contest their longtime finals experience, a bench so deep that many analysts say anyone can contribute, and a coach in Tab Baldwin who approaches the game with efficient, no-nonsense precision.

Ateneo takes Game 1

And it showed: Ateneo took Game 1 of the Best-of-Three Finals last Saturday, 1 December 2018, at a Mall of Asia Arena filled to the rafters and then some by a sea of Blue and Maroon.

UP brought to the battle its trademark fire and hustle, making their neighbors (both schools are in the Diliman-Katipunan area of Quezon City) work for every point and keeping the game seesawing between the contenders. But in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter, Baldwin’s strategies, Ateneo’s experience, and the heroics of top players Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto brought the contest to its inevitable conclusion.

The game simply reaffirmed to everyone that there is a reason that Ateneo is the one expected to win the 81st UAAP Men’s Basketball crown. Analysts crunched numbers to emphasize the statistical inevitability of a Blue Eagle win.

But is it really that inevitable?

Crunching Numbers: How much Effort Does UP Need?

Pointwest’s own Chief Data Scientist Nicco de Jesus crunched numbers on his own concerning this epic, historic battle between the two titans of Katipunan. But rather than focus on the statistics that point to an eventual Ateneo win, he decided to find out what UP can do to beat those odds.

To do this, Nicco looked at the scores of the two teams for Season 81 of the UAAP as posted in FIBA Live Stats. He then used data science to derive the relative strengths of Ateneo and UP based on how they performed against the other teams to come up with an objective performance measure using a ratio for a team’s score.

Chart depicting the Performance surge needed by UP to match ADMU

This is used to get a “guesstimate” of how UP and Ateneo measured up to each other, and with the other teams. Nicco’s number crunching showed that Ateneo has a relative score of 0.91 while UP was at 0.8. To at least come to parity with the Blue Eagles, the Fighting Maroons need to “surge” their numbers by around 11%.

So, now, the question was whether UP can make that surge to at least match the performance of the defending champions.

Predictions: Can UP match Ateneo?

Nicco then showed that UP’s past wins showed a surge between its relative score and that of its rivals. In the epic game between powerhouse Adamson and UP that sealed the latter’s first Finals appearance in over three decades, Nicco saw that UP can, indeed, fight.

Chart showing historical data of performance surges

“In the case of UP Vs ADU, relative strength surged 8.7% (UP Vs AdUScore) from round robin to Final 4,” Nicco said. “So, definitely, there can be a surge!”

He then showed additional figures on UP’s battles with Far Eastern University and National University. UP surged to a 22.9% Performance Ratio against FEU’s Tamaraws, while the Fighting Maroons upped their game by a whopping 44% against NU’s Bulldogs.

“If there can be a surge in performance what is the psychological peg the team needs to make in order to guide it to finals levels?” Nicco said. “The numbers used shows what is real, possible.”

So more than just wishful thinking or school pride on the line (Disclosure: Nicco is a UP alumnus), Pointwest’s Chief Data Scientist showed that UP can and does have what it takes to match even the most dominant team of the first two decades of the UAAP. The numbers tell that story.

The odds might be against UP, but data science says that the Fighting Maroons can win it.


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