The new win-probability algorithm has been activated and it’s time to look at the most improbable wins of last season. Going forward, I plan to have better tools around here so you can identify these games without having to wait five months after the season ends for me to write something on them. What follows are the 17 games last season where the winning team had less than a one-percent chance of being victorious at some point in the game.

17) Iowa at Wisconsin, 12/31/11
The situation: Wisconsin 38-31, with possession, 16:36 left. (0.99% chance of winning)
The result: Iowa 72, Wisconsin 65.
Comments: The new win probability algorithm uses the initial estimate derived on the day of the game. This is different than how it’s applied to the 2010 and 2011 seasons, where the end-of-season ratings are used to derive the initial estimate. We could go back and forth on the merits of each idea, but I’ve come around to the idea that I’d like to know probailities based on all the information I ave at the time the game was played. That decision is the basis for this bizarre entry, where the Badgers were given a 98.3% chance to win at the outset. (PBP, Win Prob)

16) UNLV at TCU, 2/14/12
The situation: UNLV 68-50, TCU ball, 13:48 left. (0.97%)
The result: TCU 102, UNLV 97, OT.
Comments: UNLV had already beaten TCU by 23 in Vegas and were on their way to another lopsided win in Fort Worth. The Rebels still led by 15 at the 9:35 mark, when TCU went on a 21-6 run to tie the game with 2:58 left. The Frogs actually missed three three-point attempts in the final two minutes of regulation that would have given them the lead. (PBP, Win Prob)

15) Delaware State at Coppin State, 2/11/12
The situation: Coppin State 70-58, with possession, 4:43 left (0.95%)
The result: Delaware State 84-81.
Comments: Delaware State outscored Coppin 26 to 11 in the final 4:43. Extrapolated over 40 minutes, this would have resulted in a score of 220-93. (PBP, Win Prob)

14) Central Arkansas at Northwestern State, 1/14/12
The situation: Northwestern St. 47-30, with possession, 18:51 left. (0.91%)
The result: Central Arkansas 77-73.
Comments: The low percentage here is fueled by NSU’s 88% chance of winning at the beginning of the game. This would end up being one of just three conference wins for UCA, and they overcame a 17-point deficit on the road to do it. (PBP, Win Prob)

13) Norfolk State at Morgan State, 1/14/12
The situation: Morgan State 71-55, with possession, 7:21 left. (0.90%)
The result: Norfolk State 90-89, 2OT.
Comments: If you believe in destiny, then Norfolk State’s season of destiny started here. This was the Spartans’ sixth-consecutive win, which the school mistakenly reported as a Division-I record. They were later informed they had 82 more to go. (PBP, Win Prob)

12) Lipscomb at Belmont 1/6/12
The situation: Belmont 66-54, Lipscomb ball, 9:18 left. (0.87%)
The result: Lipscomb 85-74.
Comments: This is easily the biggest margin of victory for the team coming back. Belmont lost only one other conference game – on the road to A-Sun runner-up USC Upstate at the buzzer and were a 95% favorite at the outset here. A 16-2 run gave Lipscomb the lead with just under four minutes. Once ahead, the Bison made their last 11 free throws to close it out. (PBP, Win Prob)

11) Texas Southern at Alabama State 1/30/12
The situation: Texas Southern 48-30, Alabama State ball, 9:04 left. (0.83%)
The result: Alabama State 66-59, OT.
Comments: The Hornets somehow scored 24 points in the final nine minutes of regulation, even with a three-minute drought thrown in there. They were still down four with 12 seconds, but successive hoops by Ivory White, sandwiched around his own steal, sent the game to extra time. (PBP, Win Prob)

10) Bethune Cookman at N.C. A&T, 1/7/12
The situation: N.C. A&T 55-49, with possession. 0:48 remaining (0.71%)
The result: Bethune Cookman 59-56.
Comments: This isn’t the most interesting comeback, but it does illustrate the amped up late-game win probabilities in the new method. A&T went 1-of-5 from the line, including missing a front end of the bonus, to enable B-C’s victory. (PBP, Win Prob)

9) Gardner Webb at High Point, 2/4/12
The situation: Gardner-Webb 62-52, with possession, 2:48 remaining (0.70%)
The result: High Point 81-77, OT.
Comments: Overtime is forced by a Nick Barbour 3 with 0.6 seconds left. Barbour made 48% of his three’s on the season…and 40% of his two’s. High Point made its last five three-point attempts in regulation. Overall, they made 54% of their threes in this game…and 32% of their twos. Hey, this wasn’t even the craziest comeback in this series last season. (PBP, Win Prob)

8) Duke at North Carolina, 2/8/12
The situation: North Carolina 82-72, Duke ball, 2:38 remaining (0.62%)
The result: Duke 85-84.
Comments: This is easily the most famous game on the list. Duke would have just five possessions left and went 3, 3, 2, 2, 3 to finish. Austin Rivers’ shot at the buzzer completed the comeback, in case you don’t remember it.  (PBP, Win Prob)

7) Oakland vs. Southern Utah, 3/4/12
The situation: Oakland 81-70, Southern Utah ball, 3:13 remaining (0.58%)
The result: Southern Utah 84-82.
Comments: The only March game on the list, this was a quarterfinal in the Summit League tourney. The six-seed beat the three-seed here with the Thunderbirds providing a parting gift to the conference before their move to the Big Sky. (PBP, Win Prob)

6) High Point at Gardner Webb, 1/7/12
The situation: High Point 55-48, High Point ball, 0:35 remaining. (0.51%)
The result: Gardner Webb 65-61, OT.
Comments: Yup, two of the top ten comebacks came from the same series. Gardner-Webb got the last laugh in this one, with Jason Dawson scoring the last eight to tie the game. THe Bulldogs pulled even with 19 seconds to spare then sweated out a final defensive possession to get to overtime. (PBP, Win Prob)

5) Troy at Florida Atlantic, 2/25/12
The situation: Florida Atlantic 82-73, with possession, 2:49 remaining. (0.49%)
The result: Troy 83-82.
Comments: FAU was about a 3-to-1 favorite coming in, but would whiff on their final five possessions of the game in trying to protect the nine-point lead. Troy, on the other hand, went 2, 2, 3, 3 on their last four chances. The winner came with 14 seconds remaining when Will Weathers (79%) converted three free throws. (PBP, Win Prob)

4) Yale at Columbia, 2/11/12
The situation: Columbia 53-33, with possession, 9:35 remaining (0.49%)
The result: Yale 59-58.
Comments: Columbia’s final 15 possessions: 0,0,0,0,2,0,0,0,3,0,0,0,0,0,0. That’s how you blow a 20-point lead. Still, Blaise Staab (68%) missed two free throws with three seconds left that could have kept Columbia off this list. Yale’s last 15 possessions: 2,3,0,2,0,2,3,2,3,0,2,2,0,3,2,0. The Bulldogs went 11-for-16 from the field with four offensive rebounds to close it out. (PBP, Win Prob)

3) Manhattan at Iona, 1/12/12
The situation: Iona 65-48, Manhattan ball, 7:58 remaining. (0.46%)
The result: Manhattan 75-72.
Comments: Iona is better known for blowing a 25-point lead to BYU in the NCAA tournament’s round of 64, but BYU had 26 minutes to recover from that. In this one, Manhattan’s down 17 after a Kyle Smith three-pointer, they have only eight minutes to come back, they’re not an NCAA tournament quality team, and they’re playing in Iona’s building. Iona was estimated as an 86% favorite to begin with. All the Jaspers did was score 27 points on their final 14 possessions, capping it with a tie-breaking three-pointer by Emmy Andujar (36%) at the buzzer. (Off the glass, too.) And unlike Austin Rivers, it’s not like he was open. (PBP, Win Prob)

2) Presbyterian at Cincinnati, 11/19/11
The situation: Cincinnati 47-32, with possession, 9:41 left. (0.37%)
The result: Presbyterian, 56-54.
Comments: The Blue Hose would eventually go 8-10 in the Big South and were given a 5% shot to win at the outset. Facing a 15-point deficit with less than ten minutes to go, their chances were considerably worse. After going 13-of-33 from the field to this point, they’d hit 8 of their last 11. The decisive points came on a Khalid Mutakabbir three-pointer with eight seconds left. History supports that the chances of punches being thrown in the Crosstown Shootout were higher than Presbyterian pulling this off. (PBP, Win Prob)

1) Idaho State at Sacramento State, 1/14/12
The situation: Sacramento State 54-32, with possession, 10:29 left. (0.33%)
The outcome: Idaho St. 68-67.
Comments: As Big Sky previewer emeritus for College Basketball Prospectus, I’m more interested in the conference’s events than the average human. So it was surprising on a rainy January evening to see this second-half score flash across my computer screen. You see Sacramento State had owned the Big Sky basement, having finished last in the league four straight seasons, and being 0-4 at this juncture, appeared headed to a fifth-consecutive last-place finish. But on this night, the Hornets were not just beating Idaho State but crushing their soul. Ripping their heart out and having it for dinner with a garnish of offensive rebounds and free throws. Good for them!

It wasn’t until two weeks later that I discovered they were still winless in conference, somehow blowing their enormous advantage in this one. This game had the twist of a four-point play deciding the outcome. Kenny McGowen (32% from three, 78% from the line) was responsible for the winning points with eight seconds to go. A final possession for the Hornets resulted in Sherrod Baldwin blocking a three-point attempt, his lone block of the season. (PBP, Win Prob)

If you made it this far, congratulations. Personally, I’ve only had one rule-of-thumb about when a lead is safe. (So this is quite a bit less sophisticated than Bill James’ formula, but it’s way easier to remember.) If the margin is a least 15 points with 5 minutes to go, you can leave the game. Only one contest violated this principle last season and it wasn’t on the above list. It was the 18th least-likely victory and like the Duke/Carolina game, it was broadcast to a national audience in prime time. I’ll discuss that game in the next post and use it to peek under the win-probability hood.