This is the time of year with conference tournaments getting underway when you hear people say “It’s hard to beat a team 3 times.” You hear it a lot in all sports. Have you ever stopped to think about whether or not it’s actually true?
We had a lot of success in the Little East at RIC, so we found ourselves in that situation somewhat regularly. Generally at least once a year we had to face a team we had already beaten twice. Conference tournament time is incredibly intense and I’ve always tried to focus on my team’s mentality. It’s so important to be mentally tough and mentally right to be successful in the post-season. I don’t want my player’s minds cluttered with negative thoughts. So when I started to hear people say things like “You know, it’s hard to beat a team 3 times,” I wanted to refute it immediately.
So I started to look at the numbers after a couple of years. In my 9 years at RIC we ended up in that situation 13 times, where we had to face a conference opponent for a 3rd time after beating them in the first two match-ups. In those 13 games we went 12-1. So by my 4th or 5th year, when we had been in that situation a few times, I just gave my guys the numbers. I’d say two things – 1) It’s not that hard if you are better than they are, and 2) We don’t have to beat them 3 times this week. We only have to beat them once.
This is from a post on DukesofJMU.com that was talking about this idea in 2013:
“I think, rather [than] this being much of a true competitive issue, it gives media an opportunity to bring interesting possibilities to ‘try to level the playing field,’” Dr. Jim Bauman, a sports psychologist from Virginia’s athletic department, wrote in an e-mail about the old adage, before being told any of the actual data. “Just another way of saying, ‘Hey, anything can happen and it provides hope for all. We aren’t talking about true probability…for example, what are the statistical probabilities of the same team beating another team three times in the same year? If one team is significantly better, the probability is high.”
The psychologist is right.
According to STATS LLC., there have been 981 similar matchups across Division I college basketball over the past 10 seasons. The teams entering the third game 2-0 are a combined 710-271 (.724 winning percentage) in the third meeting.
So over a 10-year period in college basketball including almost 1,000 games, the team that won the first 2 games won the third meeting 72% of the time. So it clearly doesn’t follow that it is hard to beat a team 3 times. In fact, it’s actually kind of easy.
There are a lot of “adages” that you hear in sports that people accept at fact that might not actually be true. People love to say “it’s hard to win on the road,” but I never want my team to believe that. We work the way we do in practice every day to be able to beat good teams on the road. We are prepared for it. I don’t want my team believing it’s so hard.
And I don’t want them believing it’s hard to beat a team 3 times when it’s just not the case.