2014-15 Season Analytical Writings

Is An Undefeated Regular Season Really Within Reach?

The conventional wisdom for many years has been that in “this day and age” of college basketball, an undefeated season will simply never happen. Never is a very conclusive word, and bars any possibility of an occurrence. As of December 28, seven teams remain standing without a loss. Kentucky heads this list, but an impressive assembly of college programs populate this list. Virginia, Duke, Villanova, Washington, TCU, and Colorado State. However, as evidence toward the impossibility of this dream, Louisville, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Arizona, and Wichita State despite their top 10 rankings join 12 other teams with one loss.

Prior to yesterday's dream game, Ken Pomeroy, the wizard of probabilities said that this UK team's probability of achieving this ridiculous outcome was 10.4% prior to the win at Louisville on Saturday. A 1 in 10 chance! That hardly seems impossible, albeit improbable. To put this seemingly low probability into perspective, Virginia sits at 4.8%, Villanova at 1.2%, and Duke at 1.0%, The other 3 unbeaten teams have a probability of 0.01% or less of remaining undefeated to the end of the regular season. Upon the completion of the victory over Louisville, Pomeroy's probability of the Cats finishing the regular season without a loss is 24.2% (About a 1 in 4 chance)

Looking at the internals that produce that 24.2% probability of winning out, it appears that the lowest probability the Cats have of winning any single game remaining on the 18 game SEC schedule is 77% at Florida on February 7. Only three of the remaining 17 SEC games have probabilities in the 84-89% range, leaving 14 games with 90+ probabilities of winning. Curious that when the probability is about 1 in 10, people should not really discuss it, but all of the talking heads proudly proclaim the news that with a probability of about 1 in 4 everyone is now willing to jump on the undefeated regular season band wagon.

To avoid any confusion about this message, heed the words from Ken Pomeroy's keyboard, “Don't confuse being favored in a bunch of games with being expected to win ALL of those games.” The major obstacles that remain in the Cats' path to a 31-0, 18-0 finish to the regular season are at South Carolina on January 24, at Florida on February 6, at LSU on February 10, and at Georgia on March 3,. Pomeroy projects that the Cats will sustain 1 loss along the 18 game SEC trail. On March 8, we will check back in to see if the Cats' March towards March in Search of Perfection has been successful.

Assuming the Cats do finish the season 31-0, it is important to note that the probability of doing that from this juncture of the season with this 13-0 start is more probable than going through the six game NCAA tournament as a #1 seed to win the Championship.

Consider that a #1 seed has about a 99% probability of winning the first round game, and a probability of about 92% to advance past the round of 32 for a spot in the Sweet 16. At the Sweet 16, Kentucky will face an opponent such as Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Arizona, or Notre Dame with a probability of winning of about 82%. At the Elite 8 level, UK will face an opponent such as Texas, Utah, Wichita State, and Villanova with a probability of winning at about 73%. In the final 4, UK will face an opponent such as Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Virginia or Duke with a probability of winning the semi-final game at about 55% and the championship at about 50%.

As a #1 seed, Kentucky will have about a 9 in 10 chance of making it past the first two opponents to compete in the Sweet 16. However, the probability that Kentucky will continue to advance falls with each additional round.

  • Probability of winning first 3 NCAA Games: 3 in 4 chance
  • Probability of winning first 4 NCAA Games: 1 in 2 chance
  • Probability of winning first 5 NCAA Games: 3 in 10 chance
  • Probability of winning all 6 NCAA Games: 1 in 6 chance

Having disposed of Louisville, the Cats are less likely to win the NCAA tournament than run the SEC table.

Submitted by Richard Cheeks

Submitted by Richard Cheeks


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