Sadie FuerstenbergWhitney Elbers

H-BC finishes in Top 5 of data competition

When the coronavirus pandemic canceled this year’s NCAA Men’s March Madness Basketball Tournament, it also canceled Hills-Beaver Creek High School’s participation in the data analysis competition.

Or that’s what H-BC secondary mathematics teacher Nora Wysong thought. But she learned the teams of Whitney Elbers and Sadie Fuerstenberg calling themselves the “Fluffy Hedgehog” and Joslyn Birger and Annie Boss (team name Boss) placed in the top five out of more than 100 student teams who entered the March Madness Data Analytics Battle.

“It was not fun to have the tournament canceled,” Wysong said. “But the students enjoyed the process and application of statistics that took place.”

Organizers at the Dordt University mathematics department in Sioux Center, Iowa, decided to test the students’ submitted algorithms using game results from the 2012 NCAA tournament.

“The 2012 tournament was selected because the students had already created their algorithms based on the 2013-2019 data,” said Valorie Zonnefeld, associate professor of mathematics. “Choosing a year within their training set would have skewed the results. The year does make a difference, but only highly predictive algorithms have a chance to be competitive for the top algorithm.”

Students used Google spreadsheets to select 10 men’s college teams based on the algorithms they developed. They could use as many of the 31 different data categories as they wanted when developing their algorithms.

The student teams earned points based on how many games their 10 chosen teams won during actual tournament play.

A team from Western Christian High School in Hull, Iowa, won the regional contest with the top score of 206.

Fluffy Hedgehog scored 197 points followed by Boss with 183 points.

Thirteen H-BC teams entered the battle with other participating high schools in Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota. A team from Southwest Minnesota Christian High School in Edgerton placed second.

Fluffy Hedgehog member Fuerstenberg said she and Elbers weighted three variables — rebounds, turnovers and three-point percentage — to select their top 10 teams.

“We chose these because we thought they were important statistics,” Fuerstenberg said. 

As for the team name, “It was just a random thing that popped into my head while in class,” she said.

Zonnefeld said the best stats to use for the 2012 tournament were rebounds, three-point percentages and wins against top 25 opponents. 

“Many teams received good scores as the winner of the tournament, Kentucky, was a great statistical team in most areas,” she said. “However, Missouri was probably the next best statistical team, but was upset in the first round.” 

The university plans to offer the data analytics battle again in 2021.


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