Method to the Madness: FSU faculty available to comment on sports psychology, team dynamics for NCAA basketball tournament

FSU women’s basketball guard Ta’Niya Latson drives to the hoop. (Courtesy of
FSU women’s basketball guard Ta’Niya Latson drives to the hoop. (Courtesy of

In the pressure cooker that is March Madness, some teams collapse and others thrive.

Players and coaches who compete every year for that one shining moment strive to understand what makes that important difference.

The first round of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments begin later this month. Florida State University faculty are available to comment on coaching, sports psychology, analytics and marketing.



Timothy Baghurst, professor and director, Interdisciplinary Center for Athletic Coaching (FSU COACH), College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences
(501) 613-8913;

Baghurst’s research focuses on coaching education and development, with specific interests in coaching ethics, coach/athlete health and well-being and variables that affect elite performance. He has worked with sports organizations affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and International Olympic Committee.

“Although seedings suggest who should win March Madness each year, it rarely happens. March Madness creates a unique environment for coaches and athletes in which a team might create momentum and overcome what might be considered disadvantages on paper. The mental pressure of a one-and-done format for college basketball’s biggest prize affects players and coaches. How well they cope with the intensity of such a format plays a big role in who might be going home early and who might be a Cinderella. Understanding the multifaceted nature of competition is paramount to appreciating why some teams thrive and some fold.”


Megan M. Buning, teaching faculty, Interdisciplinary Center for Athletic Coaching (FSU COACH), College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences

Buning is an expert on athletic coaching, athlete experiences and mental performance for coaches, athletes and game officials. She is a certified mental performance consultant and is listed on the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee Sport Psychology Registry.

“Mental resilience is crucial in sports. Through my research at FSU COACH and practical application as a consultant for athletes and teams, I have seen firsthand how the ability to focus, regroup after mistakes and regulate emotions affects mental performance and outcomes. These mental skills can be developed and even specialized according to sport, giving players and coaches a critical advantage in high-stakes games such as the NCAA tournament.”



N. David Pifer, assistant professor, Department of Sport Management, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences

Pifer researches sports analytics, the use of data and statistical methods to help sport organizations and individuals make better decisions. He is primarily concerned with variables related to on-field/on-court team, player and coach performance, and how analytics can help these parties enhance their decision-making by overcoming errant traditions, biases and heuristics.

“Athletes and coaches make hundreds of decisions every game. They can use sports analytics to examine those outcomes on a wide scale, helping them to improve their decision-making processes and performance. Persistent biases in analyzing crucial game decisions keep teams from achieving their potential. Data and predictive models give us insight that allows teams to break away from old conventions and find new ways to separate themselves from their competition.”


Lance Kerwin, teaching faculty, Department of Business Analytics, Information Systems and Supply Chain, College of Business, (850) 322-3001

Kerwin is an expert in business analytics, systems design, business intelligence and telecommunications. He was recognized for his teaching excellence in 2020 with a College of Business Undergraduate Teaching Award for Specialized Faculty. He also serves as an adviser to the Sports Analytic Club at FSU.

“March Madness is a special time for dreamers and those who want to be inspired. When thinking of analytics and picking a bracket, ask how you want to define success as a fan. I personally think success is defined as having fun, so don’t take your picks too seriously, but apply common sense. For some, success is promoting a favorite team and looking brilliant if they advance. Others want to analyze data and make smart decisions. The bottom line — develop your approach and methodology so that you can speak to how you came to your decisions, make your picks and root like your life depends on it.”



Colleen M. Harmeling, Dr. Persis E. Rockwood Associate Professor of Marketing, Rockwood School of Marketing, College of Business

Harmeling is an expert in marketing and consumer behavior, with specific focus on human brands (influencers and endorsers) as well as morality and how it shapes consumption, health decision-making and marketing strategy.

“For marketers, March Madness represents an effective vehicle for imbuing brands with desirable human qualities through endorsements and brand-player collaborations. This comes with greater responsibility to the players as their private lives become part of brand stories and subject to greater scrutiny. ‘Player performance’ now includes actions beyond what unfolds on the court.

For consumers, March Madness represents human accomplishment tested through extreme competition with unpredictable outcomes — prime conditions for gambling. While gambling laws vary by state, brackets are a ubiquitous and iconic element of the fan experience. Moral judgments are inevitable as fans debate the appropriateness of these behaviors, the allowable size of wagers and the impact of these decision on their broader lives.”