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Basketball Science: Hooking March Madness Fever to Hands-on Sports Science Experiments

As college basketball's spring championship gets underway, student fans can apply math and physics in hands-on science experiments that help highlight secrets to hoops success.

Student Sports Science

Great hands-on sports science projects help students explore science, physics, and math principles at work in the sports they love to play and watch. The image above is from the Basketball: Will You Bank the Shot? science project. The homemade simulation lets students experiment to see how bank shots perform from different spots on the court. When should you bank to increase the odds of scoring?

Football season is over. Baseball season hasn't seen its first pitch. Winter Olympics gold has been awarded. Triple Crown racing is still a few months off. For sports enthusiasts, this all adds up to one thing: March Madness!

March Madness is a single-elimination tournament for NCAA Division I basketball teams. Sixty-eight teams, thirty-two of which are division winners, and the balance of which are "at large" teams named to the tournament on Selection Sunday, will go head to head on the courts, whittling the two regional brackets down, game by game, to the Sweet Sixteen and then again to the Final Four, before the final game.

True to its name, this year's March Madness, which began on March 20, 2014, is kicking into fevered pitch with basketball fans trying to predict perfect brackets (predicting who will win each game to make it to the final two). On Twitter, fans are following and tweeting using the #MarchMadness hashtag, but diehard spectators and hoops enthusiasts may be tracking dozens of hashtags devoted to the multi-week championship and playoffs. For a look at some of the social media streams fans and sportscasters are using to follow their March Madness favorites, see "100 Twitter Hashtags to Follow During March Madness" on the Huffington Post.

Court Science

Students who love basketball can take time in between games to experiment with some science related to top court action. The following hands-on science project ideas encourage students to dig into the science of basketball:

  • Basketball: Will You Bank the Shot?: in this super cool experiment, students create a simulation from ordinary materials (like a cardboard tube) and use a mini ball to explore how the chance of scoring a bank shot changes depending on where the shot originates on the court.
  • Basketball Physics: Where Does a Bouncing Ball's Energy Go?: when a player dribbles, what happens to the energy of the ball? In this sports science investigation, students experiment to find out if there is a relationship between dribbling and heat energy.
  • Bouncing Basketballs: How Much Energy Does Dribbling Take?: dribbling on the sidewalk or at the local park court may feel very different than dribbling in an indoor gymnasium. In this hands-on science project, students experiment to find out how different surfaces affect how a ball bounces. Does it take more force to dribble on certain surfaces than others to keep the ball under control?
  • Nothing But Net: The Science of Shooting Hoops: where should you begin a shot for the best chance of making it? In this science project, students test to see if starting the ball from chest height, chin height, or over the head makes a difference in the percentage of successful shots.
  • Basketball: The Geometry of Banking a Basket: in this science project, students apply math and geometry to predict the chances of making a bank shot from various spots on the court. After doing this project and coming up with a set of "best chance" shot locations for a bank shot, students can keep tracking during March Madness games and see how their predictions match up to actual shots made (or missed).

Basketball science sports dribbling energy / Science project Basketball science sports bank shot angles  / Science project

Basketball science sports bank shot math / Science project Basketball science sports dribbling bounce energy and heat / Science project

Science Buddies' Sports Science Project Ideas are sponsored by Time Warner Cable.
Time Warner Cable


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