With a nearly complete database of win probability calculations for each possession played last season, it’s time to do something reasonably fun with the data. What follows is not a compendium of the biggest comebacks in terms of points. It is a mix of those kinds of situations and cases where an underdog spotted its opponent some points, thereby enhancing its longshot status during the game. These are the ten most improbable comebacks last season, accounting for time and score, as well as the difference in ability between the opponents.
The Game: San Diego State at Wyoming, January 9. (Highlights)
The Situation: San Diego State 75, Wyoming 61, 4:47 left (San Diego State ball) (1.8% chance of winning)
The Outcome: Wyoming 85, San Diego State 83.
The Quote: “We just weren’t quite tough enough to weather the storm, and when teams get on runs and they can make shots, they can bank in threes, and make shots that they don’t normally make.” – San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher
Three long balls comprised the entirety of Wyoming’s scoring in the final minute, but that was enough to allow them to give a foul on the Aztecs’ final possession in order to preserve a three-point lead. San Diego State would recover to make the NCAA tournament. Wyoming would suffer personnel losses during the conference season that transformed them from merely bad to completely uncompetitive by March. They would lose nine of their last 10, with only one of those defeats by fewer than 16 points. The win was at home against Air Force.
The Game: SIU Edwardsville at Drake, December 4.
The Situation: Drake 46, SIU Edwardsville 39, 10:28 left (Drake ball) (1.8%)
The Outcome: SIU Edwardsville 60, Drake 58.
The Quote: “Our guys made plays down the stretch. Whether it was making free throws or coming up with big rebounds, they did it.” – SIU Edwardsville head coach Lennox Forrester
This isn’t much of a comeback in traditional terms, but keep in mind that SIUE would win three games against D-I opponents all season. This was one of them, and another was the next night over Texas-Arlington in the final of the Drake Hy-Vee Classic. Of all the unlikely tournament outcomes last season, SIUE winning the DHVC may have been the most improbable.
The Game: UAB at SMU, January 16.
The Situation: SMU 50, UAB 26, 12:46 left (SMU ball) (1.8%)
The Outcome: UAB 63, SMU 62.
The Quote: “This is probably a bad analogy, but it’s like the girl that gets a makeover. Does she believe she’s the new pretty girl or does she believe she’s the other girl?” – SMU head coach Matt Doherty
Matt Doherty has put SMU through a steady, if slow, makeover since arriving in Dallas. This, however, was one of the uglier moments of his tenure. After seeing UAB stumble to 25 points in its first 39 possessions, the Blazers erupted for 37 points over its next 18 trips. When George Drake (23%) and Elijah Millsap (24%) are draining three’s, you can only chalk some of that run up to bad defense. There was a fair amount of bad karma hanging over the Mustangs that night as well.
The Game: Sacred Heart at Fairleigh Dickinson, January 2.
The Situation: Sacred Heart 67, Fairleigh Dickinson 45, 11:20 left (Fairleigh Dickinson ball) (1.7%)
The Outcome: Fairleigh Dickinson 88, Sacred Heart 85.
The Quote: “We played man-to-man the entire game and wore them out. This game came down to heart and desire.” – Fairleigh Dickinson head coach Greg Vetrone
Dave Bike was in his 32nd season of coaching Sacred Heart basketball, the second longest tenure in Division I. This has to be one of the most improbable collapses he has witnessed. FDU needed just a little over seven minutes to pull even in this one, putting together a 32-10 run that covered a mere 15 possessions, 14 of which resulted in a Knights’ score. Fortunately, Sacred Heart would get another shot at their conference rival in about five weeks. A good time to exact some revenge, yes?
The Game: Grambling at Alcorn State, January 11.
The Situation: Alcorn State 56, Grambling 35, 9:09 left (Grambling ball) (1.7%)
The Outcome: Grambling 82, Alcorn State 74 (OT).
The Quote: No known press or, for that matter, spectators at this game.
Who knows if this really happened since Grambling sports information mentions a mere 17-point comeback, and Storming the Floor cites a 19-point deficit. The official play-by-play records a 21-point difference at the 9:09 mark. But according to the play-by-play, there was no action for a six-minute stretch in the first half, and the score was 69-64 at the end of regulation (hence the bizarre WP plot at the end of regulation). Nonetheless, Alcorn State blew some sort of large lead at home and would have to wait until February 13 to pick up their first win.
Tomorrow: The top five, including the biggest post-season comeback of all times, a few words on revenge, plus an honorable mention.