UConn/Kentucky vs. 76ers (04/09/14)

By John Ewing
Could a talented college team defeat a team from the NBA? We simulated UConn and Kentucky against the 76ers to find out.


 
March Madness is fantastic. As a nation we love the NCAA tournament because of the unpredictability. This year’s tournament was the second-most upset-heavy in the 68-team field history and featured an improbable title game between UConn and Kentucky – two teams that were just 2.1% likely to reach the championship game before the tournament started.
 
While UConn and Kentucky’s appearance in the championship game was unlikely, it was not for lack of talent. Kentucky’s squad featured Julius Randle, a possible lottery pick, as well as James Young, Willie Cauley-Stein, and the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, all likely to be drafted this summer. UConn also has NBA talent, Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels rank inside the top 40 on Chad Ford’s Big Board.
 
With all these future draft picks, could UConn or Kentucky pull the greatest upset of them all – beating an NBA team?
 
First we need to pick the NBA team. To give our college teams the best opportunity to win, we need an NBA team that is terrible and employs young unproven talent. The first team that comes to mind is the Sixers. Philadelphia is the worst team in our Power Rankings, endured a 26 game losing streak, and has the youngest team in the NBA.
 
Even against a team like Philadelphia that is in full tank mode, could UConn or Kentucky pull the upset?
 
We ran a similar simulation last fall with Alabama vs. the NFL (0-4 teams). The results were not pretty. But basketball is different. With five starters, one player can have a greater impact on the game. Plus the three-point line is a lottery; inferior teams have used a great shooting night from behind the arc to produce upsets.
 
UConn and Kentucky vs. the 76ers
We simulated each matchup on a neutral floor, with the assumption that each team had equal time to prepare and that all games were played under college basketball rules. 
 
Game Winner Win Percentage Projected Score
UConn vs. 76ers 76ers 82.9% 79-66
Kentucky vs. 76ers 76ers 82.2% 84-70

UConn and Kentucky both lose and it is not really close. Philadelphia is projected to win by double digits in both games and is over 80% likely to win. For context, in all 67 tournament games this season we projected nine teams to be 80% likely or better to win their games. All nine teams did – we only gave Duke a 77% chance of beating Mercer.
 
Even against the worst the NBA has to offer, it is highly unlikely that UConn, Kentucky, or any college basketball team would defeat a team of professionals.