There aren’t many things one can claim ownership of in the analytics world these days. Think you have an original idea? It’s either already been done by someone, or has already been done by ten people. The only sport with some unplowed territory at this point is korfball. Seriously, korfball has been around as long as basketball and yet it’s completely untouched by analytics. It is to nerds as the Sentinelese are to modern civilization. If you want to get a foot in the analytics field, you can be the Bill James of korfball with minimal effort.
Anyway, this post isn’t about korfball. It’s about the two teams that have gone the longest without losing on the same day. This might be the last unique thing to be done in basketball analytics. Mostly because it seems like it’s difficult to research, and besides, who would really care about it? Well, I do, and this is my annual documentation of the longest such streaks in college hoops.
So what. Twitter’s all about inside jokes and character assassination anyway, and I think I’m pretty good at both. If you’re reading this, now you’ll be in on the references long after you’ll be tired of hearing them. Last season, those tweets stopped on February 16 when Purdue lost to Indiana and Murray State was upset by Eastern Illinois, marking the first time both teams lost on the same day since February 5, 2005, a healthy eight-year run.
That opened the door for Ohio State and Kansas to take over the honors for the longest streak. This pair isn’t as random as the wacky twosome they replace. Both programs are in the midst of a prolonged period of consistent excellence and so it’s not shocking that they haven’t lost on the same day in a long time. Still, any streak of this matter occurs because slim probabilities of simultaneous losses have been repeatedly avoided.
The last time the two teams lost together was on February 19, 2005. Even on that day, it wasn’t easy for both to be beaten. Minnesota needed a J’son Stamper bucket in the final minute to knock off the Buckeyes 52-50 and Iowa State got a Curtis Stinson hoop with five seconds left in overtime to beat Kansas 63-61. That was so long ago that if Brandon Fuss-Cheatham wanted to swap consoling tweets with Christian Moody, he couldn’t, because Twitter wasn’t even invented!
Since then, the two teams have laced ‘em up a whopping 118 times on the same day (not counting the three times they’ve played each other) and recorded a combined 40 losses, but never on the same day. The two teams have ten remaining common dates on the schedule. Here’s an estimate of the probabilities of both losing on each of those days. (These were computed before Ohio State’s six-sigma defensive performance against Marquette.)
There are two serious trouble spots on the schedule. On February 1, Ohio State travels to Wisconsin while Kansas is at Texas. The Jayhawks will be a decent-sized favorite in that one, kind of like Murray State was at Eastern Illinois last season. Things get more hairy on February 4 when Kansas goes to Baylor and Ohio State is at Iowa. Lesser potential streak-enders include December 21 when Georgetown travels to Lawrence and Ohio State plays Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden, and January 20 when Ohio State is at Nebraska and the Jayhawks host Baylor. There will be oblique references on twitter on all those days.
Based on these chances, the probability that the streak makes it to tournament is 53%. Of course, tournament time has its own issues. Barring Kansas losing in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament, the two teams will have one or two common dates during their respective conference tournaments. And they’ll probably share a date or more in the NCAA tournament. Overall, the odds are against this run remaining the subject of this post at this time next season. And that’s almost surely how it’s been for each year this streak has existed.
For those dull moments at dinner parties when you’re tired of talking korfball strategy, I’ve listed below what I believe to be the ten longest active streaks of mutual non-losing.
1. Ohio State/Kansas (2/19/05)
2. Duke/Kansas (3/6/05)
3. Fairfield/Kansas (2/25/06)
4. Kentucky/Memphis (11/23/06)
5. Duke/Robert Morris (2/1/07)
6. Duke/Weber State (3/15/07)
7. Fairfield/New Mexico (12/4/07)
8. Kentucky/Weber State (12/8/07)
9. Harvard/Purdue (12/22/07)
10. Belmont/Minnesota (1/5/08)