Wednesday, February 2, 2011

If It Weren't for Bad Luck

While I agree with Number3Son that Miller was terrible last night, there is also reason to believe that UK is simply having terrible luck. Ken Pomeroy gives teams a "Luck" score reflecting the difference between their efficiency and their won-loss record. Teams that lose a lot of close games rank very low on "Luck," while teams that win close games tend to rank high on "Luck." Here are UK's luck rankings over the last few years:

2003: 46 (Record: 31-4)
2004: 85 (27-5)
2005: 93 (28-6)
2006: 171 (22-13)
2007: 258 (22-12) (Tubby's last year)
2008: 143 (18-13)
2009: 319 (22-14) (Gillispie's last year)
2010: 41 (35-3)
2011: 313 (16-5)

There are several interesting points here. First, luck doesn't necessarily even out over the course of a season. Some UK teams were relatively lucky (2003 and 2010), while others were extremely unlucky (2007 and 2009). Second, unlucky years (like 2007 and 2009) tend to be years of great unrest within Big Blue Nation. If Gillispie's bad luck had come in 2008 instead of 2009, he might have saved his job.

Of course, traditionally we don't think of teams that lose a lot of close games as "unlucky"; we think of them as chokers. And it may be that the difference between 2010 and 2011 is that John Wall and company were just much calmer down the stretch. But I think there is a lot more luck involved than we tend to recognize. Chris Warren is a great player, but I don't think he could make that game-winning shot more than 50 percent of the time. And John Wall was a great player, but I remember a lot of really close games last year that could have gone either way. Also, UK had relatively good luck scores in every year from 2003 to 2005 -- the Chuck Hayes years -- and I did, in fact, believe that those teams were particularly good in clutch situations. But in 2004 and 2005, UK was upset in the NCAA tournament in exactly the type of close game at which I thought they were particularly good. I now think that in both of those years, their luck literally ran out. The same thing happened last year, when UK drew a West Virginia team that -- for once in its life -- shot the lights out from three-point range.

We will, of course, hope that UK's luck turns -- and that this young team doesn't get too discouraged from its close defeats. But if that doesn't happen, we will just have to recognize that at least some of the difference between last year and this year is purely a matter of luck.

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