When will the undefeateds lose?
Breaking down the odds that the four unbeaten teams will remain flawless
With the conference season starting and four unbeaten teams remaining, it's prime time to wonder which undefeated team -- Arizona, Duke, Michigan or Wyoming -- will be the last one standing.
Instead of just speculating, I thought it would be interesting to take a more calculated approach to determining which team will earn the distinction of being the lone remaining unbeaten. For this exercise, I played out the season using the win probabilities derived from my ratings for the games remaining on each team's schedule. Actually, I did this 1 million times in order to get a reliable estimate on which team would be the last to lose a game.
Before we look at the results, there are a few scenarios worth examining that are unlikely to happen but fun to consider. For instance, it's not out of the question that one of these teams will make it all the way to its conference tournament without a loss. There's about an 11 percent chance of at least one team accomplishing this, and an 0.2 percent chance of two or more teams pulling off the improbable. (The "or more" is almost unnecessary there. In just three simulations did three teams make it to the end of the regular season unbeaten.)
The next date that all four teams share on the schedule is Feb. 2. What are the chances all four suffer their first loss on the same day? This only happened in 11 out of 1 million cases. In the unlikely event that does occur, Arizona would take the title of last unbeaten by virtue of playing the last game of the day.
One assumption in these calculations is that each team is healthy. However, Wyoming may be without its second-leading scorer, Luke Martinez (broken hand), for a few games. Thus, the figures contained in this piece are probably slightly generous in terms of the Cowboys' chances. Given that their prospects are already the weakest of the group -- and that my first work on sport ratings took place while I was in graduate school at Wyoming -- I'm willing to give the Cowboys this benefit of the doubt.
Let's examine the possibilities for each team in order of their chances of being the last unbeaten. (And in case you were wondering, the last undefeated team to lose last season was Murray State, when Tennessee State beat them on Feb. 9, 2012.)
To read Ken Pomeroy's complete analysis for when each of the remaining unbeated teams are most likely to lose, you must be an ESPN Insider.
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