We’ve all been there before. It’s the classic dinner-table dispute over the quality of any two given sports teams. For me, the dispute always arises with one of my best friends from Pittsburgh:
The matchup? A diehard Pitt Panther versus a Penn Stater who bleeds blue and white.
The result? A conversation that usually ends up looking a little something like this:
Me: “Penn State could crush Pitt this year, Pitt looked terrible against Wagner.”
Him: “Stop it, Penn State is an embarrassment to the Big Ten.”
Me: “Oh really? Well, we beat South Florida this year, who beat Pitt TWICE!”
Him: “You want that game? Pitt took care against Duquesne, something I believe Penn State couldn’t accomplish.”
A game indeed. And a game that most of us have probably played our entire lives. Well, we beat Team X who beat Team Y who crushed Team Z, so theoretically we should handle Team Z with ease.
And it makes sense, right?
I think in mathematical terms it is called the transitive property. You know, that property we are all brainwashed with in sixth grade? If a is greater than b, and b is greater than c, then we can conclude that a is greater than c.
Logical enough…except when it isn’t. Extrapolation of the property is dangerous.
Take basketball, for instance. Haven’t you wondered why March Madness is always madness? Why isn’t there ever a year when the favorites simply win?
So have I.
In the 2011 NFL season, I stumbled upon a graphic the week after the Chiefs knocked off the Packers. It was entitled, “Any Given Sunday” and it demonstrated how every team in the NFL could be linked, theoretically, to having beat another team.
Example: The Chiefs beat the Packers who beat the Bears, who beat the…do you get the picture? It was an absolutely intriguing graphic, and it seemed to show, in a sense, why you had to bring your A-game each and every Sunday.
Then I had a crazy thought.
What if the same could be done for the 2011-12 season of NCAA college basketball? We weren’t just talking 32 teams here, we were talking about 344. Yes. Three hundred and forty four. Was it even possible? My heart said yes, my brain said no.
There was only one way to find out.
So I tried.
And what did I find? Well naturally, it was possible. That’s right. After nearly three-and-a-half weeks of mind-numbing and exhaustive data collecting, the pieces fell into place.
How did it work? Of course, I started with Penn State. I had to prove that my favorite team was indeed the best in the land. At least until I connected the cycle.
You can find my extensive results listed below. This should go to prove that any table talk of “this team beat that team so therefore this team is better than that team” is simply fallacious.
The table reads as follows. Begin with Penn State. Penn State beat Illinois, 57-54. (Score listed to the right of Illinois). Illinois beat Ohio State by five, who beat Duke, who beat North Carolina, who beat Michigan State…you get the idea.
But, see? I had already proved that Penn State theoretically should beat Duke, UNC, MSU and Ohio State. Golden. In fact, you can use this table to theoretically prove that any team in the nation is better than any other team in the nation!
Even lowly Navy.
And, ah yes, I almost forgot. If you are “one of those” people who like to throw scores around, I must set you straight too. You know who you are. The people who say, well Central Michigan beat Toledo by 16, who beat Northern Illinois by 30, who beat Miami (Ohio) by three, who then beat Belmont by five. Therefore, Central Michigan could beat Belmont by at least 50!
Not. So. Fast.
By calculating the margin of victory from every team in my list, who Penn State theoretically would beat, one could come to the conclusion that Penn State should easily beat Kentucky by: wait for it...approximately 3,151 points.
But wait, I almost forgot. Kentucky and Penn State did play. Final score? 85-47.
In favor of Kentucky, naturally.
|Team||Score||Margin of Victory|
|Mount St. Marys||64||56||8|
|St. Francis (NY)||63||48||15|
|St. Francis (PA)||59||56||3|
|South Dakota State||72||61||11|
|North Dakota State||55||51||4|
|San Diego State||77||67||10|
|Long Beach State||77||73||4|
|Cal State Fullerton||75||61||14|
|UC Santa Barbara||99||86||13|
|Cal State Northridge||62||61||1|
|Florida Gulf Coast||88||81||7|
|East Tennessee State||72||63||9|
|College of Charleston||73||66||7|