Could a College Basketball Team Beat an NBA Team?

The question of the day: Could the best college basketball team beat the worst NBA team? The short answer is that it’s possible, but really unlikely. For sake of comparison, we are going to give the nod to Gonzaga over Baylor for college basketball’s best team in 2021. Sure, they lost the championship, but if that game is played again on a neutral court, then I still think the Zags are the slight favorite. For the NBA team, we will use the Houston Rockets. They’ve been consistently bad all year and are competing with Oklahoma City to be the worst-rated team in our NBA Ratings.

Breaking Down the Teams

Below is Gonzaga’s 2021 roster. I’d argue that there are four future NBA players on this roster. Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert are both very good players who could fill holes for teams and break a starting lineup early in their career. Joel Ayaya is likely an early second round pick who is projected as a reserve or two-way player. Drew Timme has NBA potential, but hasn’t declared for the draft this year. While this is all interesting, the thing to note is that none of these players, today, would start for any NBA team. Further, the talent gap really drops off after the first four or five players.

Top 10 Gonzaga Players – 2021
Player # Class Pos Height Weight Hometown High School Summary
Drew Timme 2 SO F 6-10 235 Richardson, TX Pearce (TX) 19.0 Pts, 7.0 Reb, 2.3 Ast
Corey Kispert 24 SR F 6-7 220 Edmonds, WA King’s (Shoreline, WA) 18.6 Pts, 5.0 Reb, 1.8 Ast
Jalen Suggs 1 FR G 6-4 205 West St. Paul, MN Minnehaha HS 14.4 Pts, 5.3 Reb, 4.5 Ast
Joel Ayayi 11 JR G 6-5 180 Paris, France Institut national du sport (France) 12.0 Pts, 6.9 Reb, 2.7 Ast
Andrew Nembhard 3 JR G 6-5 193 Aurora, Canada Montverde Academy 9.2 Pts, 2.4 Reb, 4.4 Ast
Anton Watson 22 SO F 6-8 225 Spokane, WA Gonzaga Prep 6.9 Pts, 3.3 Reb, 1.2 Ast
Aaron Cook 4 SR G 6-1 180 St. Louis, MO Westminster Christian Academy 4.2 Pts, 1.6 Reb, 1.7 Ast
Julian Strawther 0 FR G 6-7 205 Las Vegas, NV Liberty HS 3.4 Pts, 1.2 Reb, 0.0 Ast
Dominick Harris 55 FR G 6-3 190 Murrieta, CA Rancho Christian School 3.0 Pts, 0.7 Reb, 0.4 Ast
Oumar Ballo 21 FR C 7-0 260 Koulikoro, Mali Canterbury Academy (Spain) 2.5 Pts, 1.5 Reb, 0.1 Ast

Now, the Rockets are a terrible team by NBA standards, but imagine how they would match up against this Gonzaga roster. At every position, the Rockets are a much more skilled and deeper team. Breaking this down further, there isn’t one player on this Rockets roster that wouldn’t easily make the starting lineup of the Bulldogs. Sure, one can argue that a player like Jalen Suggs may be better than an aging D.J. Augustin, but even that is a stretch. And it’d be impossible to keep Augustin out of the starting lineup.

Top 10 Houston Rockets Players – 2021
No. Player Pos Ht Wt Birth Date Exp College
8 Jae’Sean Tate SF 6-4 230 October 28, 1995 R Ohio State
35 Christian Wood C 6-10 214 September 27, 1995 4 UNLV
1 John Wall PG 6-3 210 September 6, 1990 9 Kentucky
4 Danuel House SF 6-6 220 June 7, 1993 4 Texas A&M
2 David Nwaba SF 6-5 219 January 14, 1993 4 Cal Poly
10 Eric Gordon SG 6-3 215 December 25, 1988 12 Indiana
3 Kevin Porter Jr. SG 6-4 203 May 4, 2000 1 USC
41 Kelly Olynyk PF 6-11 240 April 19, 1991 7 Gonzaga
9 Avery Bradley SG 6-3 180 November 26, 1990 10 Texas
14 D.J. Augustin PG 5-11 183 November 10, 1987 12 Texas

How Would the Game Go?

The reality of the situation is that the Rockets are much more athletic, deep and skilled than the Bulldogs. The speed of the game at the NBA level is so much faster than in the NCAA game that it’s hard to comprehend. The common myth is that NBA players “don’t like to play defense”. While these guys can be lazy from time to time, their athleticism still wins out over the college guys. The assumption of our result is that this game is played over 48 minutes with an NBA 3-point line. Obviously, if the game is shortened or any rule is changed that allows for more randomness, then the odds go up for the underdog.

So Could a College Basketball Team Beat An NBA Team?

If I were an oddsmaker, then I’d open the line at around 32 points. I’m sure the square bettors would push this number down to 25 points or so, but that would just turn into another Mayweather/McGregor situation. With a line at 32 points, that means that the Rockets would win roughly 99.55% of the time. Doing some math, this means that Gonzaga would win about 1 in every 222 games that they played against the Rockets. So, is a Zags win impossible? No, but I wouldn’t bet on it.