Despite losing at the buzzer in a heartbreaking 88–86 setback to Harvard (14–9, 7–3 Ivy) on Saturday, the Yale (18–5, 8–2) men’s basketball game on Saturday was one of the most exciting sporting events the Ancient Eight has witnessed this year.
A sold out John J. Lee Amphitheater stood on its feet for almost the entirety of the contest as the pregame hype did not disappoint. The top two teams in the conference traded shots back and forth for the entire game until the Crimson ultimately won on a buzzer-beating shot from point guard Bryce Aiken. There was a palpable tension in the air for the entire night, and it seemed fitting that the team who had the ball last was the one to emerge victorious.
Is there a way to quantify how tense and emotional this game made even the most casual of basketball fans feel? One attempt to do so is through a metric known as “Game Excitement Index,” or GEI for short. To compute this metric, both teams’ win probability after each play of the game using the current score, the time remaining in the game and the pregame point spread are all factored together. GEI is the sum of changes in a team’s win probability over the course of the match. A GEI of 5, for example, means that over the course of the entire game, a team’s chance of winning swung by a total of 500 percent across all plays in that game.
Yale and Harvard’s thriller on Saturday scored a Game Excitement Index of 7.38, easily the Bulldogs’ most exciting game of the year. Perhaps surprisingly, this only ranks as the 12th-most exciting Ivy League matchup of the season. There are two reasons why this instant classic ranked lower in terms of GEI than one might initially expect.
For starters, Yale opened the game as a six-point favorite, per Vegas point spreads, implying a 78 percent chance of winning the game. The Elis’ average first-half lead was 5.07 points, and Yale didn’t trail until the 3:29 mark in the first half. These factors meant that Yale’s win probability primarily increased, and despite the feelings of tension, the first half lacked a lot of large swings in win probability. The second reason that the Yale-Harvard game ranked lower than expected in GEI is that the Ivy League conference slate has been very chaotic across the board this season.
Per kenpom.com, 42.5 percent of Ancient Eight games have been decided by three or fewer points or have gone to overtime — over 10 percent higher than the next closest conference in the country and the highest percentage of any conference since at least 2002.
Interestingly, Columbia (7–17, 2–8) played in the three most exciting games of the season thus far per GEI. By far the most exhilarating game in the Ivy League this season was Columbia’s triple overtime loss to Harvard on Feb. 8 with a GEI of 13.3. Buzzer beaters forced the first and second overtimes in that game, including a miraculous three-point heave from Aiken. Columbia’s buzzer-beating victory over Penn (16–10, 4–6) last Friday ranks second with a GEI of 10.5, while its 65–63 defeat at the hands of Brown (17–9, 5–5) on Feb. 16 ranks third with a GEI of 9.7.
Cornell (13–13, 5–5) has played in the most exciting games, with an average GEI of 6.96, followed closely by Penn, whose average GEI is 6.82. Despite possessing the three highest GEI scores in the conference, Columbia ranks a distant third with an average GEI of 5.69, having been on the losing end of several blowouts. Yale ranks last in the conference with an average Game Excitement Index of 3.43. This is by no means to suggest that the Bulldogs are not an exciting team to watch, but rather speaks to the fact that they have been favorites going into the majority of games this year and have won several of those games by double digits.
By no means is the Game Excitement Index a perfect metric, but it does offer one way to quantify the emotions of a given game. Regardless of what the numbers say, it is hard to beat the environment at JLA last Saturday — a sellout crowd, a rivalry game and a buzzer beater for the win.
Luke Benz | firstname.lastname@example.org