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.
|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.
|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.