Watching the Michigan/Penn State game last night, I was riveted. The Wolverines spent a large part of the game playing horrible basketball, but more importantly, they were scoring exclusively with the two-point shot. I wondered if we were about to witness a feat more rare than a 6 OT game, an accomplishment that would never be duplicated for the rest of humanity – could a team go the distance scoring two at a time?

When Zack Novak hit a three with 11:59 left, all of my speculation was pointless, but it did force me to do some research. I now have over 9000 play-by-plays in my database dating back to the 2005 season. Michigan’s two-fer was the second longest on record.

  Date     Team         Opp       1st non-2   Score before shot
 3/01/08  Texas A&M    Oklahoma     11:39         18-44
 1/07/10  Michigan     Penn St.     11:59         26-42
12/05/07  San Jose St. San Diego    12:17         20-37
12/17/05  Arizona St.  Iowa         14:07         18-38
11/27/05  S.C. St.     UAB          15:48         24-44

Going back to the ‘04 season, there have been 34,592 games involving a D-I team. In 71 of those, a team didn’t make a free throw. In 333, a team didn’t make a three. Assuming those are independent events, both things happening to the same team would occur once in about 50,000 games or every 9-10 seasons.

But those aren’t independent events. First, a team that doesn’t make threes probably isn’t taking many threes and thus would tend to get more free throw attempts than the typical team. But more importantly, as the chart above shows, scoring two at a time is not for winners. It leads to horrific offense which in turns leads to a large deficit and that leads to an increase in three-point attempts.

Thus, I conclude it’s physically impossible for a team to go the distance making only twos, but Michigan gave it a good run on a night of otherwise uninspiring college hoops.