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UNC Basketball: The Transitive Property

Strap in for some wild extrapolation

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Transitive wins and losses are bunk. You know it, I know it, the selection committee knows it—but come March, when fans are talking about seeding and regions and the various other things that usher in that particular madness of early spring, terms like ‘quality losses’ and ‘transitive wins’ are thrown around like so many water balloons at a summertime birthday party in days gone by. Even though we know it’s mostly a charade, it gives us a projectile to lob at other fan bases when perhaps the head-to-head for the season doesn’t favor our Heels (or perhaps doesn’t exist at all). How else are we supposed to compare two teams that never crossed paths in the regular season than by what they were able to do against a common opponent? That’s rhetorical; obviously the record against shared opponents is a data point, but it certainly isn’t the alpha and omega in any given conversation about college basketball, at least between reasonable fans who are aware of the history of the sport outside the confines of campus. It takes a special kind of doofus to base an argument solely on records against other schools, completely ignoring context around those games and the fact that teams can grow and change wildly from one game to the next.

With that being said, let’s make predictions for the rest of the Tar Heels’ season based on the results of the first seven games of the season, as well as the records of the teams the squad has already played!

The Heels opened up the season with a few wins against overmatched opponents that don’t carry too many transitive wins to boast about; in fact, the transitive losses suffered by the team from Chapel Hill in the course of these actual real-life wins were perhaps more telling: in Carolina’s 11-point (real-life) win over the Cougars of College of Charleston, the Heels unfortunately suffered a 19-point transitive loss to Oklahoma State (as the Cowboys would beat the Cougars by 30 only six days later) and in the seven point real-life victory over a game team from Brown, the Heels were unknowingly suffering a stinging 14-point transitive loss to Creighton as the Blue Jays proceeded to deliver a bone-breaking 21-point loss to the Bears exactly a week later.

Sometimes real-life losses can translate into some of the best transitive wins (those are the aforementioned “quality losses” that everyone adores); in November 20th’s disappointing loss to the Purdue Boilermakers, the Heels actually found a gem of a transitive win over a conference opponent, besting the Florida State Seminoles by a transitive margin of 19 points (Purdue beat Florida State by 28 on Tuesday; this Purdue team is quite good).

The Michigan Wolverines, at time of writing the most recent opponent for the Heels, turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. Not only did Carolina secure a 21-point real-world win over a Top-25 opponent, but the Heels also gained a very important transitive win over the 11th-ranked Wildcats of Arizona who only beat the same Wolverines by a paltry 18 points. In March, rest assured that both the real and also completely imagined sides of this win will be major selling points when the Heels are discussed.

Transitive wins and losses rightfully carry significant weight, as I’ve always said. To that end, I’d love to join the overwhelming chorus of writers and bloggers and sports radio talkers nationwide in congratulating UNC Asheville on being two points better than the #24 Michigan Wolverines via their shared losses to the UNC Tar Heels.

Go Bulldogs, but most importantly GO HEELS!