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The Year in Brutality: Recapping the best upsets in college basketball

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It was a busy year for the epitome of brutality.

NCAA Basketball: Stephen F. Austin at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Losing a buy game. The epitome of brutality.

It’s one of the best parts of the college basketball season. A bigger program (usually from high-major conferences) pays a certain amount of money to a mid-major program to come play a “buy game” before subsequently getting pants’d by said mid-major team.

It’s almost a daily occurrence in the early months of the season, and it leads to one of these tweets from Jon Rothstein:

Due to the frequency of Brutality (yes, we’re treating it as a proper noun), it’s become an annual tradition to track Brutalities across the country in the Brutality Leaderboard.

Now that conference play is in full effect, it’s time to look back and reflect on the year in Brutality.

For reference, here is the full leaderboard. There were 51 Brutalities in total for the 2019-20 seaon.

2019-20 Brutality Leaderboard

Conference America East Atlantic 10 Atlantic Sun Big Sky Big South Big West Colonial C-USA Horizon Ivy MAAC MAC MEAC Missouri Valley Mountain West NEC Ohio Valley Patriot SoCon Southland SWAC Sun Belt Summit WCC WAC Non D-1 Total
Conference America East Atlantic 10 Atlantic Sun Big Sky Big South Big West Colonial C-USA Horizon Ivy MAAC MAC MEAC Missouri Valley Mountain West NEC Ohio Valley Patriot SoCon Southland SWAC Sun Belt Summit WCC WAC Non D-1 Total
Total Brutality 2 1 3 1 3 4 2 1 1 4 0 3 5 2 0 3 2 4 2 2 1 2 2 0 0 1 51
Vermont Saint Joseph's Liberty Southern Utah Winthrop UC Riverside Hofstra Lousiana Tech IUPUI Penn Ohio Coppin St. Evansville Merrimack Belmont American UNC Greensboro Nicholls St. Prairie View A&M Arkansas St. Omaha UMass Boston (D3)
Hartford Liberty Radford UC Riverside James Madison Penn Buffalo Morgan St. Northern Iowa St. Francis PA Tennessee St. Boston ETSU SFA Arkansas St. North Dakota
Stetson Charleston Southern Cal St. Fullerton Yale Ball St. Coppin St. Bryant Lafayette
UC Riverside Harvard Morgan St. Colgate
Florida A&M
Brutality Given

2019-20 Brutality Leaderboard

Conference AAC ACC Big Ten Big East Big 12 PAC 12 SEC Atlantic 10 Mountain West Missouri Valley WCC CUSA Patriot Total
Conference AAC ACC Big Ten Big East Big 12 PAC 12 SEC Atlantic 10 Mountain West Missouri Valley WCC CUSA Patriot Total
Total Brutality 6 5 6 4 1 5 8 8 3 1 2 1 1 51
South Florida Pitt Nebraska St. John's Iowa State Washington St. Alabama St. Bonaventure Colorado St. Loyola Chicago Saint Mary's UTSA Holy Cross
UConn Boston College Northwestern Providence UCLA Kentucky George Washington San Jose State Loyola Marymount
East Carolina Duke Nebraska Georgetown Colorado South Carolina George Washington Fresno St.
East Carolina Georgia Tech Northwestern DePaul UCLA Missouri Saint Joseph's
Tulsa Clemson Nebraska Cal Mississippi State Saint Joseph’s
Cincinnati Northwestern Vanderbilt Fordham
LSU Fordham
South Carolina Fordham
Brutality Suffered

2019-20 Brutality Leaderboard

Date KP Rank Winner Score KP Rank Loser Score Margin KP Win Expectancy KP Rank Difference
Date KP Rank Winner Score KP Rank Loser Score Margin KP Win Expectancy KP Rank Difference
11/5 224 Ohio 65 127 St. Bonaventure 53 12 21.0% -97
11/5 112 Penn 81 70 Alabama 80 1 23.0% -42
11/5 285 UC Riverside 66 96 Nebraska 47 19 6.0% -189
11/8 312 Merrimack 71 83 Northwestern 61 10 5.0% -229
11/9 273 Nicholls St. 75 65 Pitt 70 5 5.0% -208
11/9 210 Southern Utah 79 127 Nebraska 78 1 22.0% -83
11/11 195 Winthrop 61 28 Saint Mary's 59 2 5.0% -167
11/12 237 American 67 226 George Washington 65 2 35.0% -11
11/12 169 Evansville 67 2 Kentucky 64 3 1.0% -167
11/12 346 Coppin St. 76 102 Loyola Chicago 72 4 2.0% -244
11/13 274 IUPUI 70 102 South Florida 53 17 10.0% -172
11/13 218 Saint Joseph's 96 68 UConn 87 9 8.0% -150
11/16 291 Morgan St. 68 237 George Washington 64 4 26.0% -54
11/16 83 Belmont 100 98 Boston College 85 15 43.0% 15
11/16 77 Vermont 70 92 St. John's 68 2 43.0% 15
11/16 95 Liberty 77 255 East Carolina 57 20 68.0% 160
11/19 213 Boston 78 63 South Carolina 70 8 8.0% -150
11/19 134 Radford 67 99 Northwestern 56 11 28.0% -35
11/20 262 Arkansas St. 80 138 Colorado St. 78 2 18.0% -124
11/21 185 Omaha 85 141 Washington St. 77 8 30.0% -44
11/21 154 Hofstra 88 98 UCLA 78 10 24.0% -56
11/23 129 Penn 81 28 Providence 75 6 10.0% -101
11/26 264 SFA 85 2 Duke 83 2 0.2% -262
11/30 99 UNC Greensboro 65 62 Georgetown 61 4 24.0% -37
11/30 218 St. Francis PA 79 202 Saint Joseph's 63 16 33.0% -16
11/30 282 Prairie View A&M 79 223 UTSA 72 7 26.0% -59
12/3 219 Lafayette 94 220 Saint Joseph's 71 23 38.0% 1
12/3 314 Coppin St. 85 253 East Carolina 75 10 38.0% -61
12/3 313 Charleston Southern 68 43 Missouri 60 8 2.0% -270
12/5 81 Louisiana Tech 74 43 Mississippi State 67 7 25.0% -38
12/7 258 Arkansas St. 66 107 Tulsa 63 3 14.0% -151
12/8 113 Buffalo 74 52 DePaul 69 5 17.0% -61
12/10 265 Bryant 69 200 Fordham 61 8 26.0% -65
12/10 99 Northern Iowa 79 36 Colorado 76 3 19.0% -63
12/10 N/A UMass Boston 69 325 Holy Cross 66 3 N/A -
12/14 138 Colgate 67 49 Cincinnati 66 1 14.0% -89
12/14 72 Liberty 61 122 Vanderbilt 56 5 54.0% 50
12/15 271 Tennessee St. 66 215 Fordham 61 5 28.0% -56
12/18 84 ETSU 74 28 LSU 63 11 20.0% -56
12/18 119 Ball St. 65 94 Georgia Tech 47 18 30.0% -25
12/20 242 James Madison 75 226 Fordham 69 6 36.0% -16
12/21 254 North Dakota 75 129 Nebraska 74 1 17.0% -125
12/22 81 Yale 54 91 Clemson 45 9 41.0% 10
12/22 243 UC Riverside 80 308 San Jose State 65 15 54.0% 65
12/28 283 Cal St. Fullerton 77 115 UCLA 74 3 12.0% -168
12/28 227 UC Riverside 60 117 Fresno St. 57 3 20.0% -110
12/28 302 Morgan St. 74 206 Loyola Marymount 71 3 20.0% -96
12/29 319 Hartford 67 98 Northwestern 66 1 5.0% -221
12/29 96 Harvard 71 188 Cal 63 8 59.0% 92
12/30 331 Stetson 63 88 South Carolina 56 7 3.0% -243
12/31 323 Florida A&M 70 43 Iowa State 68 2 1.0% -280
Results

Inside the numbers

Here are some numbers based on the entire year in Brutality:

  • The biggest margin of victory was 23 points, when Lafayette beat Saint Joseph’s 94-71 on December 3.
  • There were five games that were decided by just one point: Penn over Alabama (81-80), Southern Utah over Nebraska (79-78), Colgate over Cincinnati (67-66), North Dakota over Nebraska (75-74), Hartford over Northwestern (67-66)
  • The highest win expectancy based on KenPom’s FanMatch was Liberty’s win over East Carolina. The Flames were ranked 160 spots higher than ECU on KenPom and were given a 68 percent chance of winning.
  • The lowest win expectancy came in what will be the most memorable upset of the year and one of the biggest in recent memory. Stephen F. Austin was given a 0.2 percent chance of beating No. 1 Duke before the Lumberjacks stunned them at the buzzer in OT.
  • The average KenPom win expectancy was 22.3 percent.
  • The average KenPom rank of the team giving the Brutality was 207.8. The average rank of the team suffering Brutality was 122.2.
  • Brutality givers won by an average margin of 7.22 points. Fourteen teams won by double-digits (27.4 percent of Brutalities).

The one percent

In society, the term “1 percent” often refers to the richest members of society. In Brutality, it brings a slightly different connotation. There were three games in which KenPom gave the winning team a one percent chance of winning or less.

As mentioned above, Stephen F. Austin’s historic upset of Duke was the least likely Brutality of the season at 0.2 percent. In case you forgot how that one ended—and shame on you if that’s the case—here’s a reminder.

That wasn’t the only upset of a No. 1 team that was considered to be nearly improbable. Evansville’s three-point win over Kentucky in the second week of the season was given only a one percent chance of likelihood on KenPom.

The third and final Brutality with a one percent likelihood was Florida A&M’s upset of Iowa State just before the calendar flipped to the new decade. The Rattlers were ranked 323rd in KenPom at the time, making the upset of then No. 43 Iowa State the biggest difference (280 spots) in KenPom ranks in any Brutality this season.

The more the merrier

Every year, there are just some teams that have a penchant for knocking off the big boys. Here’s every team that dished out multiple Brutalities.

  • UC Riverside (3): Nebraska, Fresno State, San Jose State
  • Penn (2): Providence, Alabama
  • Morgan State (2): Loyola Marymount, George Washington
  • Liberty (2): Vanderbilt, East Carolina
  • Coppin State (2): Loyola Chicago, East Carolina
  • Arkansas State (2): Tulsa, Colorado State

Repeat offenders weren’t limited to those giving out Brutalities. There were a handful of teams that paid money to lose multiple times.

  • East Carolina (2): Coppin State, Liberty
  • Fordham (3): Bryant, James Madison, Tennessee State
  • George Washington (2): American, Morgan State
  • Nebraska (3): North Dakota, Southern Utah, UC Riverside
  • Northwestern (3): Hartford, Merrimack, Radford
  • Saint Joseph’s (2): Lafayette, St. Francis PA
  • South Carolina (2): Stetson, Boston University
  • UCLA (2): Cal State Fullerton, Hofstra

The following conferences did not tally a single Brutality given: MAAC, Mountain West, WCC, and WAC.

The MEAC (!) led all conferences in Brutalities given with five. Not bad for the lowest ranked conference in KenPom.

The Atlantic 10 and SEC tied for the most Brutalities suffered with eight. Saint Joseph’s, Fordham, and George Washington are the three lowest ranked teams in the A-10 and combined for seven of the eight Brutalities.


So there you have it folks. Another year of buy games and Brutalities in the books. Thanks for following along all season and for making this so much fun to track.