2009-10's most unlikely hoops outcome

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
4:40
PM ET
Adjusted efficiency guru Ken Pomeroy has been spending some time this summer using win probability data to determine which 2009-10 college hoops wins were the most unlikely. Pomeroy has factored in not only point margin but underdog-favorite status and time remaining on the clock. The result is a lot of fun: Two lists of some of the craziest results of the year, games that prove just how thoroughly unknowable college basketball can oftentimes be. (As if your annually shredded tournament bracket needed another reminder.)

The gang at the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective did us one better on Friday. They wrote a post (complete with comment from Mark Cuban!) discussing what they say is the most unlikely college hoops outcome of the 2009-10 season. That outcome isn't a big upset. Nor did it feature an underdog fighting back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit. No, few will remember or care about the Cal-State Fullerton vs. Cal-State Northridge barnburner, but rest assured its outcome featured some seriously mind-bending odds.

First, the setup. Taking advantage of Cal-State Northridge's decision not to foul while up by three, Cal-State Fullerton hit a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. Then, in the first OT, Fullerton tied the game at the final second thanks to a shooting foul and two made free throws by Gerard Anderson. In the second OT, Northridge, up by three, again chose not to foul with eight seconds left, and Fullerton made another buzzer-beating three-pointer to push the game on again. Then, the third OT happened. I'll let the Harvard boys explain:
The third overtime ended in one of the most unlikely ways possible: Cal St Northridge, seemingly having learned their lesson, fouled Gerard Anderson while up three with four seconds left. Unbelievably, Anderson made the first and purposefully missed the second; Eric Williams got the offensive rebound and scored on the putback tying the game up. Williams was fouled on the play, and made the free throw, ultimately winning the game for the Titans. Cal St Northridge went from an almost assured win up three points to a loss in one sequence.

Which, yes, sounds pretty unlikely. Incredibly unlikely, actually. But just how unlikely? Fortunately, there are people in the world that are good at math. I am not one of them, but I always appreciate their work. Again, from the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective:
Just how unlikely was the combination of possessions that allowed Cal St Fullerton to prevail? Using my database of over 1000 end of game possessions and assuming that end of game possessions are independent (a fair assumption, I think), we can calculate the odds. Teams down 3 points in such a situation as CSF found themselves twice scored at least three points 61 times out of 301 possessions. Teams down two scored at least two points 126 times out of 236 possessions. And teams down three points scored four points only one time (Cal St Fullerton) out of 301 times.

Multiplying these together and converting to odds by using the operation (100/result) – 1, we find that the odds of these four events happening are roughly 13,286 to 1.

And there you have it. Somehow, Northridge lost that game, and somehow, none of us had really heard about it until now. Unlike today's other incredibly unlikely college hoops bit -- Corey Fisher's alleged 105-point game -- there is video here. It's almost hard to watch.

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