John Calipari is no stranger to stirring the proverbial pot. Over the years as Kentucky’s head man, Cal has taken his fair share of good natured jabs at media members, officials, and opposing coaches, receiving a moderate amount of criticism for his actions. He’s certainly not shy in expressing his opinions, and today, we got another somewhat controversial nugget from the man they call Cal. As previously reported, Calipari spoke at the 46th annual Baron Club Award Dinner at the Franciscan University of Steubenville about the importance of dreaming. During the speech, he addressed one of his personal goals of coaching a team that goes undefeated. “My goal before I retire is to coach a 40-0 team because they say it can’t be done,” stated Calipari. “As the season goes on, it gets harder and harder. But I say let’s do it, let’s do something crazy.” Certainly a lofty goal, but just how likely is this outcome?
This is a question Wildcat fans have been quietly asking themselves over the past number of years. Many are of the opinion that the 2009-10 squad with the addition of Jodie Meeks on the roster would’ve run the table. Now just one year after taking home a national title, many among Big Blue Nation wonder what could’ve happened if Christian Watford’s last second heave would’ve rimmed out (Don’t forget the Vandy game either). While this discussion is fun in hindsight, it’s nothing but pure speculation. However, Kentucky is expected to have a pretty solid squad next season, leading many to question if the impossible task can be accomplished. In order to see if this is plausible, I’ve used simple probability to test the theory.
In order to come up with the figures, I simply averaged season win probabilities. Once you average the tough games with the easy ones, you should get a reasonable season total. Since we don’t know the strength of Kentucky’s schedule, I’ve estimated multiple season probabilities to get the best estimate. The below chart contains probabilities for a team to win a variety of games in a row when their season average win probability is 80%, 85%, 90%, 93%, 95%, 98%, and 99% respectively.
(Example: If a team has, on average, an 85% chance to win every game, they’ll have a 2% chance to win 25 games in a row.)
As you can see, it’s really difficult to go undefeated from the statistical standpoint. If, on average, a team has a 95% chance to come out victorious in every contest, they’d only have a 13% chance of going unbeaten during a 40 game schedule. Even if a team has, on average, a 98% chance of winning every single game, there’s a 64% chance they don’t go undefeated. It isn’t until a squad has, on average, a 99% likelihood of winning every match-up that it has a probable chance of going undefeated. Even then, there’s a 33% chance that they stumble somewhere along the road. Now that we know this, where will next year’s squad fall?
It’s impossible to know for certain what kind of probability Cal and his squad will have to collectively win every game. The schedule isn’t finalized yet, but there will be numerous difficult games with Michigan State, Louisville, North Carolina, Baylor, and others. Of course, it’s anyone’s guess as to the final average win probability. However, once those “toss-up” style games are averaged with the gimmie games, there should still be a high probability. For reference, 2011-12’s championship squad had around a 90% chance, on average, to win every single game. Next year’s immensely talented squad may have a better shot, but at the end of the day, it’s highly unlikely to remain unbeaten, even with a squad like this. It’s an improbable task, but if anyone’s up to it, it’s John Calipari.