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Thursday, April 18, 2013
Updated: June 20, 11:50 PM ET
TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown 2013

By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com

Has it been the Year of the Stat Geek?

In November in the presidential election, baseball sabermetrician-turned-political data analyst Nate Silver nailed the winner in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown veteran John Hollinger was tapped to join the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies. In March, 29 NBA teams sent representatives to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and more organizations than ever are devoting serious resources to analytics. Advanced stats are routinely referenced on many NBA broadcasts and by mainstream outlets. Algorithms drive sales strategies, page views and traffic lights.

It's a stat geek's world and we're just living in it.

The seventh TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown has arrived. Along with newcomer Tom Haberstroh, we have six returning contestants this spring, including Matthew Stahlhut, the reigning champion. Stahlhut jumped out early last year and maintained his lead through each round. Benjamin Morris looks to regain his form from his first Smackdown in 2011, when he finished first.

Also returning is Jeff Ma, who holds the 2010 title. Ma is a retired member of the MIT Blackjack Team that beat Vegas, a former consultant to pro sports teams, author of "The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big In Business" and current CEO of tenXer. The 2009 Smackdown champ was Dave Berri of Wages of Wins, which will be represented for the second straight year by Arturo Galletti, who uses many of Berri's methods.

For the past three years, Stephen Ilardi has been consulting the Phoenix Suns, and this is his sixth consecutive Smackdown appearance. That makes him the second-longest tenured TrueHoop Smackdown participant to Henry Abbott's mom, the only person on earth who has competed in all seven TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdowns.

Our eighth entrant is "The Crowd," which debuted in 2012. The Crowd is the collective opinion of more than 100 ESPN.com staffers and members of the TrueHoop Network.

The rules haven't changed. Participants will draw on a combination of their expertise, guesswork and muse to predict the outcome of every playoff series. Predictions are submitted before each round. A correct pick earns five points, with an extra two points for correctly calling the number of games.

Scoreboard


Series Predictions (click on the links below to see picks for each matchup)


NBA FINALS
SAS-MIA

CONFERENCE FINALS
IND-MIA | MEM-SAS

CONFERENCE SEMIS
CHI-MIA | IND-NYK | MEM-OKC | GSW-SAS

FIRST ROUND
MIL-MIA | BOS-NYK | ATL-IND | CHI-BKN | HOU-OKC | LAL-SAS | GSW-DEN | MEM-LAC

Smackdown Breakdown: Spurs-Heat

You have to hand it to Jeff Ma. The current Smackdown leader could've picked the Heat like the majority of the panel and probably coasted to victory. But Ma couldn't bring himself to choose Miami because he feels that -- get this -- that would be in poor character.

"I basically have this thing won since there's no doubt The Crowd will pick Miami, so if I want to limp into a win, I just pick Miami. But sometimes there are more important things than winning," Ma said. "In this case it is right versus wrong. ... I'm tired of the Heat playing possum and the role of dysfunctional family only to play like front-runners and celebrate like a bunch of pompous you-know-whats when they beat an undermanned team in Game 7 of a series that had no business going more than five games.

"Do I think the Spurs can win? Maybe. Do I think the Spurs will win? Not really. But I feel like a better person picking R.C., Pop and their crew than I do Riley, Spo and the biggish three. And in the end, I just want to feel like a better person, because I've already won this thing despite being a serious homer in Round 1 and the only one foolish enough to pick the [Celtics]."

Unlike Ma, most of the contestants found no moral or aesthetic objections in picking the Heat. If Miami wins in seven, Tom Haberstroh would tie Ma for the lead among the individual human beings in the Smackdown, though both Haberstroh and Ma would be nosed out by "The Crowd," our panel of several dozen experts.

"For me, this comes down to the fact that the Heat can finally return to their devastating brand of basketball: drive and kick to the corner," Haberstroh said. "The Bulls and Pacers lock down the corner 3 better than anybody, and with Roy Hibbert plugging the paint, the Heat couldn't unleash their LeBron-inspired versatility."

Benjamin Morris notes that the Heat are 4-1 against San Antonio in the LeBron era (one of those wins came this season in Miami with the Spurs' big three back in San Antonio). Matthew Stahlhut isn't deterred by the Heat's close conference finals series and picks the Heat in six.

"I'm curious whether people will underrate Miami based on having a close series with a very good Indiana team," Stahlhut said. "From my perspective, I expect that Miami will win this series rather easily because San Antonio will have great difficulty with perimeter defense, whereas Miami's perimeter defense is equipped to handle the Spurs' offense."

At the start of the season, Arturo Galletti predicted the Spurs to defeat the Heat in the Finals in six games, and he's going to stick with his pick.

"The Spurs are the historically great team that they were at the start of the season, but the Heat are not the team that they were in the second half," Galletti said. "Throw in home court, and it's dead even. The Spurs, though, have the best coach in the NBA. I also want to try to finish second, and I want to stick to my preseason Spurs-over-Miami-in-six pick."


Bios

Arturo Galletti is an electrical engineer and Six Sigma Black Belt in the lovely isle of Puerto Rico, where he applies his talents to good, honest work (most of the time) by keeping his production lines running day and night (and weekends), and works on sport analysis in his free time.

Tom Haberstroh is an ESPN Insider who once came within 100 M&M's of the actual number of M&M's inside the big jar at St. Luke's Easter Sunday Mass in 1993. He has fallen in love with statistics ever since, especially when it comes to basketball and baseball.

Steve Ilardi is a clinical researcher, professor of psychology and author of "The Depression Cure." He also was an analytic consultant to the Phoenix Suns.

Jeff Ma is a former blackjack expert, movie star and sports savant and currently the CEO of tenXer, a company trying to reinvent the way people work using metrics and magic.

Benjamin Morris publishes original research and criticism on his blog Skeptical Sports Analysis. Since graduating from Yale University in 2003, he has spent most of his time on independent research, writing and gambling.

Matthew Stahlhut, who graduated from the St. Louis University School of Law in 2007, has been an attorney and a statistical analyst for a group of sports gamblers.

Henry's Abbott's mom hasn't watched all that much NBA since "JeRomeo" Kersey retired.

The Crowd is a collection of more than 100 ESPN.com and TrueHoop Network writers.