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Posted at 3:52 PM ET, 03/10/2011

Virginia blew a 100 percent safe lead

By Dan Steinberg

I listened to Virginia's truly epic ACC tournament collapse on the radio, which was an interesting experience. On the one hand, you couldn't see the Miami bench flipping out, couldn't see the disbelieving panic in the eyes of the Cavaliers, couldn't watch as they found 15 different ways to screw up in less than 43 seconds.

On the other hand, absent all the visual hoopla, it all felt like such implausible nonsense that it really drove home the absurdity of the situation. You just can't lose a 10-point lead in less than 43 seconds. Just about impossible to do. It didn't process.

Like, noted baseball statistician Bill James once published a formula to determine when a college basketball lead is safe, in the sense that it cannot possibly be overcome. When he published his formula in 2008, his editor was able to find only one game that beat his formula.

"Once a lead is safe, it's permanently safe, even if the score tightens up," James wrote. "The lead, if it was once safe, remains safe. The theory of a safe lead is that to overcome it requires a series of events so improbable as to be essentially impossible."

Does the Virginia game qualify? Well, it comes extremely close, anyhow. If you ask the calculator about a team nursing a 10-point lead without the ball and with 43 seconds on the clock, it tells you the lead is 98 percent safe. If you ask about a 10-point lead without the ball and only 42 seconds on the clock, then the lead becomes 100 percent safe. Essentially impossible to blow.

Some of the accounts of Miami's comeback say it began with "less than 43 seconds" remaining. Some merely say "42 seconds." I'm not sure what this means, but I'm pretty sure that Virginia put forth a historical performance.

Correction: Miami got the ball back with about 42 seconds left on the clock, but didn't score for about eight seconds, which means this game absolutely, undoubtedly meets James's standard for a 100 percent safe lead, one that's "essentially impossible" to blow. Well done everyone.

(Via @Burgwyn)

By Dan Steinberg  | March 10, 2011; 3:52 PM ET
Categories:  College Basketball  
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Reminds me of that MD-Duke game several years back when the Terps were winning by ten in the final minute or so and lost.

Posted by: bsumner | March 10, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I was watching the game on, um, a lunch break, and my only reaction was laughter. Completely absurd. Thankfully they weren't playing for anything.

Posted by: mini_dagger | March 10, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

It's at times like this that I am most proud of my alma mater. Nobody, and I mean nobody, chokes at sports like UVA.

Posted by: wahoo2x | March 10, 2011 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Yeah it was very similar to Maryland's loss to Duke 10 years ago this year...only difference? Miami is awful and Duke was the best team in the country that year, and Steve Blake had fouled out at that point in the game. Miami ain't Duke. UVa should be humiliated by this.

Not sure why no one has called it the biggest collapse in college bball history yet, because it is indeed the biggest (or ties the biggest with MD, depending on how you want to look at it, though there was a little more time on the clock in the MD collapse).

Posted by: Barno1 | March 10, 2011 9:45 PM | Report abuse

I think UVa's choke is worse than Maryland's. MD blew a 10 point lead in a 60 second span, though there was 1:50 on the clock when the comeback began.

The difference, to me, wasn't the opponent - Duke and Maryland were both Final Four teams so Great vs Great :: Bad vs. Bad is a wash to me.

I think Blake fouling out is the difference. MD, without Blake was a significantly worse team than the one that got the lead. They couldn't maintain possession or run offense because they could no longer match up with Jason Williams.

UVa lost the game with the same lineup that got the lead, and they missed FTs in the process. Both chokes are terrible - I think this is objectively a worse choke, though losing at home to Duke probably hurts MD fans more than this hurts UVa fans.

Posted by: dlgood | March 11, 2011 3:42 AM | Report abuse

Also, I think LSU blowing a 31-point second half lead vs. Kentucky is still the biggest collapse in BBall history.

Posted by: dlgood | March 11, 2011 3:45 AM | Report abuse

I was kind of hoping this would replace the UMD-Duke game in ACC lore, so that we can finally wash that memory of our mind.

Posted by: M__N | March 11, 2011 11:32 AM | Report abuse

As a UVa fan, I can say that yesterday was stunning. On every play from 42 seconds on the worst possible thing happened.

After the initial disbelief and anger, I had to laugh.

All in all, we had a good season (especially after Scott's early injury) and will be a good team next year. Sweeping Tech and embarassing Maryland in College Park last Saturday were several other positives to take away from this year. Tony Bennet will be here for awhile.

Posted by: Rory14 | March 11, 2011 1:13 PM | Report abuse

BTW, interestingly enough the only other game where a 100% statistically 'safe' lead was blown was also an ACC game.

It was between UNC and Duke in 1976, when UNC blew a 8 pt lead with 28 seconds left.

Posted by: Rory14 | March 11, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Easily the most laughable loss I have ever witnessed. As a UVA alum, and avid basketball fan, I can't explain how much it hurts to have your team experience this type of collapse. I am embarrassed for coach Bennet and all of the players who were on the court. With that said, I have nothing but the utmost praise and respect for what Coach Bennet is doing in Charlottesville. He is not building simply a team but a program in arguably the toughest historical division in college basketball. How do you possibly expect to compete with the likes of Duke and UNC? Well, I think Bennet is well on his way. Please know coach, that regardless of the hurdles you WILL overcome, we have your back. The defense that Virginia has exhibited over the past two seasons is phenomenal (minus late game collapses which can be expected when you play 3 freshman significant minutes). If Mike Scott comes back next year, he will bring the same presence everyone witnessed earlier in the year. Joe Harris and KT Harrell are going to be great scorers and leaders for the next few years. Akil mitchel is everything you want in a role player. I love his energy. Red-shirt James Johnson is a big body who will be an enforcer down low... similar to the likes of Tyler Hansborough (minus as polished an offensive game). I am very excited to see what Malcolm Brogden and Paul Jasperson bring next year. While this year could not have been more painful when it came to offensive production, it will come. And when it does, watch out. Bennet does such a great job of recruiting and signing players that believe in his system. Coachable, intelligent, winners. While in the short term the evidence does not support it, those results will change. Keep up the great work, coach and team, and please don't get discouraged!!!

Posted by: cappyrwt | March 11, 2011 7:40 PM | Report abuse

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