College Sports

The barely undefeated, about-to-lose Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky Wildcats’ Willie Cauley-Stein (15) rebounds against Mississippi Rebels’ Martavious Newby (1) in the second half of a game in Lexington, Ky., Jan. 6, 2015.
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Now that college football is over, let's move over to college basketball's major story this year: The completely over-hyped Kentucky Wildcats.

Three weeks ago, UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford called Kentucky "the best team I've coached against" in his 24-year career. He said "there's not a weakness on the team." Many other basketball experts have lavished praise on this year's Kentucky team, similarly calling them the best ever, saying they will undoubtedly go undefeated, and claiming that there is no opponent who can stop them.

ESPN is airing the 15-0 Wildcats' Tuesday night game versus the Missouri Tigers.

But before we talk about their next contest, let's look at the past two games.

Kentucky won both of them—barely—in overtime, no less. The Wildcats could easily have two losses right now, instead of still being undefeated and at the top of the polls. Just barely. Their undefeated position is a very precarious one right now. The chance of their staying that way for the rest of the season is very slim. Here are the specific numbers:

The data comes from Ed Feng, founder of the Power Rank, a sports data information service. Feng holds a Ph.D. and is a math whiz. He admits that Kentucky in any given game should be the winner.

The only problem is that the accumulated effect of those probabilities suggests they will lose at least once along the way. Even if they had a 90 percent chance of winning each game, the numbers would suggests they should lose one time out of every 10.

Over the course of the season, Kentucky only has a 13 percent chance of winning every game. (The UCLA Bruins has the longest winning streak in college hoops, with 88 consecutive wins from 1971 to 1974.)

"I think Kentucky is off to a hot start this season," said Feng. "It's the opposite of last season, when they started preseason No. 1, but struggled during the regular season." Feng points out that "they only really played well in the tournament," and his analysis of the numbers shows that this year, "the real Kentucky is somewhere between last year's and this year's team."

So look out for a loss. Don't be surprised when it comes. It probably won't be Tuesday night against a weak Missouri team, but it might be sooner than you think.