College Basketball’s Golden Rule: An Analytic Study

“All the successful teams I’ve ever seen have 3 characteristics: They play unselfish, they play together, and they play hard” – Larry Brown

“Be quick without hurrying” – John Wooden

“The first team to score sixty wins” Dennis Burkett

These are all famous basketball quotes from even more famous coaches. Ok, well maybe all but the last quote. That is mine. I’m far from a motivational basketball coach capable of inspiring his troops to achieve greatness. I’ve never won an NBA title, nor have I even laced it up on the hardwood at the collegiate level. One thing I have done is extensive research and observation over the course of my life when it comes to college hoops.

Over roughly the past five years I have noticed a trend and began researching what I have coined “college basketball’s golden rule”. What is that rule? The first team to reach sixty points will win the game, regardless of how close the contest is, how much time is remaining on the clock and completely isolated from who the favorite is to win the game. You may be thinking to yourself, “this is silly”. Stay with me.

To test my hypothesis I randomly sampled 102 different NCAA Division I contests that have taken place this 2018-19 season. I made sure the data set included games involving teams from all 32 conferences and both ranked and non-ranked programs. The results were staggering; the team to reach sixty points first won an impressive 92 out of 102 times. This equates to 90.2% of the time.

I was also curious to see that out of these games the final scores varied greatly as well as dayton aubwhen the 60 point mark was achieved. Obviously, if a team reaches 60 with 12 seconds to go, the odds of them winning are great. But, what about in high scoring SEC games? Take the December, 8th matchup of Dayton at Auburn. The Tigers reached a score of sixty with 13:06 reaming in the contest. The score at the time was 61-52. Auburn ultimately won the game with a final score of 82-72.

I’ve also observed many games where the first team to reach sixty points reaches the bryantnhmark later in the game. The December, 1st matchup between Bryant & New Hampshire was this type of scenario. Bryant’s senior guard, Byron Hawkins hit a momentum-changing three at the 4:02 remaining mark in the second half, making the score 61-59. This started a rally that led to a 75-65 victory over New Hampshire. It appears that for some reason the sixty point mark can spark a rally in a close contest.

Clearly, this is a trend, not a mere coincidence. My sample size is large enough to emphasize statistical relevance. Now that I had established a trend, what do players & coaches think? Is this information that is applicable to strategy and coaching? I reached out to Greg Lansing,

the head coach of Indiana State University’s Men’s basketball team to see what he thought. “Obviously, you want to be ahead at any time. Better teams and high IQ teams will win the majority of times”. Lansing emphasized to me that he did not feel that this would in any way change the way he would manage a game.

What about the players? Did they think they could utilize this information? Given the fact I am an Indiana State alum, I reached out to another Indiana State alum, Matt Renn. Matt Renn played four years for the Sycamores and played in two NCAA tournament games. Renn is 12th in career scoring, 4th in career rebounding and 6th in career steals for the Sycamores. He’s also spent a lot of time around the game as a color commentator on the radio for the Sycamores. Renn indicated that he was intrigued. He felt that as a player you may be motivated to step up defensive intensity when the opponent was nearing the sixty point mark.

So, there you have it, college basketball’s golden rule. What do you think? Was this an interesting study and a valid statistical analysis or am I just full of it? Let me know in the comments below.

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