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    The Bad Luck of the Irish and Some Unlucky Ducks

    by Ken Pomeroy on Monday, August 21, 2006


    It’s time for the annual look at luck. In order to keep things fresh, I’m throwing my old buddy Pythagoras to the curb and leaning on a new pal, Karl Friedrich Gauss, to show us the way to the luckiest and unluckiest teams in the game last season.

    You see, past versions of this post used the Pythagorean method to estimate what a team’s winning percentage should have been. But now, I’ll be using the correlated Gaussian method, invented by Dean Oliver. The difference between the two is that Pythagorean averages each of a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency to come up with a winning percentage, while the Gaussian uses the distribution of a team’s game efficiencies. Since most teams have a tendency to play to the level of the competition, the latter method is little more accurate.

    See last year’s episodes (1, 2), and previous versions from there for the utility of this investigation. We’re measuring luck in terms a team’s record compared to what they deserved based on their game-by-game efficiency. The idea being that any analysis of the future relies on knowing the past, which is largely determined from a team’s record. But in a few cases, that record is misleading.

    With those formalities out of the way, let’s get right to it. Oh yeah, one other thing. Unlike years past, I’ll be looking at the whole season instead of just the conference slate.

    It turns out the unlucky teams are more interesting than the lucky ones. With that tease, let’s start with the lucky group. Teams are ranked by the difference between expected winning percentage (as determined by Mr. Gauss) and actual winning percentage. In parentheses is the amount of wins this represents.

    1. Sam Houston St.  .159 (4.3)
    2. Gardner Webb     .158 (4.6)
    3. Grambling        .136 (3.4)
    4. UMKC             .118 (3.2)
    5. Chattanooga      .107 (3.0)

    Yeah, nothing all that noteworthy here. Sammy H. finished 22-9. Four of those victories were against non-D1 competition, which I am not including in my analysis. Of their other 18 wins, only 2 were by more than 10 points.

    Some teams to comment on farther down the list:

    6.  G. Washington    .105 (3.2)

    Winning 27 of 30 games will always rank high on the luck-meter. But the Colonials won all four of their overtime games and their 3 losses were rather decisive.

    12. Hofstra          .096 (3.2)

    Went 5-1 in games decided by 5 points or less, just 7-3 in games decided by at least 15. Even with everyone returning, the Pride will have trouble claiming CAA supremacy.

    24. Connecticut      .078 (2.7)

    We sort of think of UConn as underachieving, but lucky? Their 30-4 record came on 27-7 results.

    Here are the five unluckiest:

    330. Northern Colorado  -.129 (-3.5)
    331. San Jose St.       -.141 (-4.4)

    OK, now the good stuff…

    332. Oregon             -.144 (-4.6)

    Another disappointing season for Malik Hairston, Aaron Brooks, and Co., right? But the season wasn’t necessarily as bad as it looked. Not when you consider that the Ducks led the nation in losses by luck. Had the breaks merely evened out for Oregon, they would have been 20-13 and perhaps an at-large team instead of postseason-less. Oregon was involved in nine games decided by 3 or less, and was victorious just once. And that doesn’t include the season-ending double-OT loss to Cal.

    Don’t be surprised if Oregon’s record improves dramatically in the finale for Brooks (and the junior Hairston?), even if their play doesn’t. And if their performance improves as much as it did between ‘05 and ‘06, we’ll be talking about a team that wins 12 or 13 Pac-10 games and gets a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, despite a pathetic non-conference schedule. You heard it here first: 2007 is the year of Chamberlain Oguchi (or Maarty Leunen - I haven’t decided).

    333. Notre Dame         -.145 (-4.3)

    Notre Dame will look a little different in ‘07, so I don’t think there’s much about ‘06 that we can apply to this season. Nonetheless, they were a team to be revered for their bad luck. The Irish were an astounding 3-12 in games decided by at most 6 points, and they dropped all five of their overtime games (including 2 double-OT games). They were better than a bunch of at-large teams, but history will record them as a second round NIT loser.

    334. Virginia Tech      -.148 (-4.5)

    Luck comes in many forms, some obvious, some not. In the case of the Hokies it was obvious at times, as they actually lost twice when leading as the buzzer sounded. They suffered one defeat by scoring a game-losing basket on their own hoop, and in another were felled by a successful halfcourt heave.  Everyone of note is back for Tech, who should have higher than normal expectations for a team that won just four of 17 conference games.

    One final note: the luck factor will be added to the scouting report pages pretty soon, so you’ll be able to track this stat in real-time this season.