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binglogoThe NCAA will offer fans data-driven predictions and analysis for its annual men’s basketball tournament this month thanks to a partnership with Microsoft.

Bing Predicts, which utilizes algorithms and other information to predict everything from elections to the Oscars, will once again make projections for March Madness just like it did last year.

This year, though, Bing has become the official “bracketologist” for the NCAA as part of a beefed up partnership announced today.

Last year during March Madness, Microsoft teamed up with the NCAA, which provided a decade of historical data to help improve predictions.

The NCAA will do the same this month, but now it is featuring Bing’s predictions on the official bracket at NCAA.com, exposing Microsoft’s search engine to a much wider audience. Bing will also host a “full bracket experience” on its own site.

Brian Marble, director of marketing for Bing, told GeekWire that the new NCAA deal is part of a larger effort to tap into customer “passions” like sports, entertainment, and politics.

“At the end of the day, we want our customers to love Bing,” Marble said. “With predictions, it gives us an opportunity to offer immersive experiences that gets them to think differently about search.”

For its March Madness predictions, Bing crunches more than a decade of NCAA historical data to identify patterns that contribute to a team’s success. It also sorts through specific data from each game this season —win/loss ratio, distance from a team’s home campus to a given game, data related to conference tournament play, etc. — and uses “social signals indicating the wisdom of the crowd.”

Bing, which offers predictions for other sporting events like the World Cup and NFL playoffs, had a far-from-perfect performance during March Madness last year. It incorrectly predicted 9 of the 32 first round games, and missed 7 of the Sweet 16 teams. It correctly picked two Final Four teams — Kentucky and Duke — but picked Kentucky to win it all instead of Duke, which ultimately beat Wisconsin in the final.

Photo via Shutterstock.
Photo via Shutterstock.

Walter Sun, Principal Applied Science Manager at Bing, told GeekWire that his team improved the prediction algorithm from last year.

“We expect to do better than last year,” Sun said. “Our learnings have improved the model.”

Bing is also using its prediction engine to project which teams will qualify for the tournament, announcing a site called Arewein.net this past January.

Microsoft, which has been ramping up its involvement with sports over the past several years, is also launching a new Windows 10 March Madness app for phones, tablets, and PCs. The app will provide live alerts on upsets, overtimes, and close games, while also letting users live-stream all 67 tournament games — however, you’ll need cable subscription log-in credentials to do so.

“For us, sports is a great synergistic opportunity to connect with customers over time,” Marble noted. “We can really bring a differentiated experience to them and bring value to the fan base.”

Last weekend, Bing correctly predicted 70 percent of the Oscars award winners. It also nailed 20 of 22 Grammy Awards last month. However, Bing missed a couple NFL playoff predictions and missed on its Super Bowl winner projection, as New England lost in the AFC Championship to Denver, the eventual champion.

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