On January 19th, LSU beat Arkansas 66-63 in overtime. It was a particularly fortunate victory for LSU, because the game went to overtime only when officials conferred about a would-be game-winning three-pointer by Arkansas’ Michael Jones at the end of regulation. The shot was ruled a three by one official and a two by the other. Ultimately, replays were inconclusive (can we get some HD monitors, please?), the officials ruled the shot a two, and LSU got an extra chance with the overtime.

This is one example of how a goofy break can influence the outcome of a contest. Over the course of a season, these breaks are supposed to even out, but they don’t for some squads. For some closure on my earlier look at the unluckiest teams of 2005, here were the 20 luckiest teams in conference play from 2005, based on the difference between expected and actual conference winning percentage, with actual conference record in parenthesis.

  1             Davidson +0.224 (16- 0)
  2 Arkansas Little Rock +0.214 (10- 4)
  3        Virginia Tech +0.189 ( 8- 8)
  4            Dartmouth +0.187 ( 7- 7)
  5        NC Wilmington +0.165 (13- 5)
  6         Jacksonville +0.161 (11- 9)
  7  Wisconsin Green Bay +0.158 (10- 6)
  8        Louisiana St. +0.154 (12- 4)
  9              Pacific +0.154 (18- 0)
 10           St. Mary's +0.150 (11- 3)
 11           Texas Tech +0.147 (10- 6)
 12             Missouri +0.136 ( 7- 9)
 13        West Virginia +0.136 ( 8- 8)
 14       Boston College +0.124 (13- 3)
 15     Northwestern St. +0.123 (13- 3)
 16            Charlotte +0.120 (12- 4)
 17    Southern Illinois +0.118 (15- 3)
 18 Missouri Kansas City +0.116 (12- 4)
 19               Nevada +0.113 (16- 2)
 20            Minnesota +0.113 (10- 6)

Interestingly, Southern Illinois makes the list for the third year in a row – they were 3rd in 2004 and 4th in 2003 – suggesting their performance isn’t so much luck, but more related to not stretching that 10-point lead to 20 in garbage time. They’re the bizarro-Cincinnati.

Much like the unluckiest list contained mainly losing teams, the lucky list contains mostly winners. It’s most interesting to pick out the teams on the list that didn’t win so much. Virginia Tech improbably played their way into a 4 seed in the ACC tournament despite an expected conference record of 5-11. They lose their second-leading scorer from last season in swingman Carlos Dixon. They also have faced an unfair share of off-season tragedy, what with junior forward Allen Calloway diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and freshman forward Deron Washington losing the family house to Katrina. They return enough talent, including a couple of quality recruits, to maintain their level of performance from last season, but it probably won’t be reflected in their ACC record.

Then there’s West Virginia, whose expected winning percentage was actually lower than Providence’s. Providence finished 4-12 in Big East play, four games behind the Mountaineers. WVU was 8-9 within the conference regular-season window (8-8 in the Big East plus a January loss to Marshall) with losses to bad teams and a couple that went beyond lopsided. But they were 17-2 outside this period with quality wins out the ying-yang.

The turnaround at the end of the season was fueled by “center” Kevin Pittsnogle getting increased minutes. It’s hard to believe a guy who played less than half of his team’s minutes (by coach’s decision) could seriously consider an early jump to the NBA. Well, the NBA didn’t seriously consider Pittsnogle. But take a look at his line from last season, and you can see why he makes for a great player in the John Beilein system, surrounded by four excellent passers.

           O-Rtg %Poss  %Shots %Min  PPG  TO% OR%/DR%  FTA/FGA eFG%
PITTSNOGLE..116   28.1   34.1  47.7 11.9 12.3 8.8/14.8  .248   56.1

Pittsnogle has an incredible appetite for shooting the ball, hoisting over a third of his team’s shots while he’s on the court. In playing only 19 minutes per game, he was just 7 field goal attempts from leading the team in that category. He provides little else – you give him the ball, he shoots. He doesn’t turn it over much, he won’t get to the line often, his rebounding is nothing special, and he doesn’t set up his teammates (22 assists all season). But he shoots in bulk, and is successful an awful lot.

Something to watch in ‘06 is how his numbers will be affected by more playing time. Prorate last season’s stats to 30 minutes a game and he would have placed 12th in the nation with 488 field goal attempts. Among the top 20 in FGAs, only Pat Carroll had a better eFG% (57.6) than Pittsnogle. Which leads me me to believe that Pittsnogle won’t duplicate either the volume or the efficiency (or both) from last season. This is not to say that WVU is headed for a disappointing season. They’ll be somewhere in between the 17-2 version and the 8-9 version. But the only way they will challenge for the top of the Big East is if Pittsnogle can approach his 2005 production with the massive increase in playing time he is likely to receive.