Probabilities of tonight’s Bristol- Maplewood game

For basketball fans at the collegiate and high school levels, as well as professional football fans, one of the most famous adages is, “It’s difficult to beat a team three times in one season.”

The logic behind this wisdom derives from basic mathematics. When one flips a coin three times, what are the odds of flipping either heads or tails three times in a row?

The statistical probability of landing heads or tails is 50 percent, and because the results are completely independent of each other, multiplying that percentage by itself three times will give you a 12.5 percent probability of getting the same side three times in a row.

We can transfer the concept to basketball, where only two possible results (one team or the other will win) exists, and with the district tournaments underway, teams will likely face off against an opponent for a third time.

One such example is tonight’s girls Division IV district semifinal matchup between the Maplewood Rockets and the Bristol Panthers.

After beating the Bristol Panthers twice in the regular season by a combined seven points, the Rockets will look to beat them a third time tonight – this time for a chance to play in Saturday’s Division IV district final in Rootstown.

Maplewood coach Mark Yoder, a math teacher by trade, admitted that he had never heard of this piece of wisdom, but as a coach, he understands the difficulty of winning games.

“I find it hard to beat a team one time,” Yoder said. “Beating them a third time, it probably will be a little more difficult since these two teams know each other so well.”

Familiarity is the key to the difficulty of beating a team of similar caliber three times in one season. Not only does the losing team have one game film to analyze, but it has a second to watch. The ability to see the strengths and weaknesses of its opponents is enhanced greatly.

Considering these two teams are rivals, Maplewood and Bristol know each other extremely well, and considering how close the previous two matchups on Dec. 21 and Jan. 8 were, Bristol isn’t coming into the matchup without some confidence.

The Panthers can take heart in the fact that they seemed to outplay their rival for three quarters at Maplewood High School in the teams’ last meeting before the Rockets made a furious late comeback.

“Knowing that we only lost by a total of seven points definitely gives us the confidence to go in there,” Bristol senior Ally Jones said. “We believe we can win this time.”

As logical as the adage is, the problem stems from the fact that although the probability at the beginning is low. Once the third game rolls around, the probability of winning the next game continues to increase.

So, instead of the small 12.5 percent chance, Maplewood has the same probability to get the positive result as if just looking at one game (50 percent), which is all the Rockets need to move onto the district final.

Going into this last game, both sides agree that it will be a flip of a coin to decide the outcome.

“We’re pretty excited,” Yoder said. “We’re really looking forward to this game. I’m sure Bristol’s looking forward to it.

“This is a tournament game. Anything can happen.”