Monday, November 28, 2022

Luck or Skill?

For years, we've been interested in Ken Pomeroy's "luck" ranking -- which is how he measures the difference between a team's actual record and what its record should have been given its offensive and defensive efficiency.  Pomeroy calls it "luck" because he believes that a team's record in close games is largely a matter of luck.  But for many fans, when you watch your team lose one close game after another, it doesn't feel like luck at all.

Take Kansas and Kentucky.  Here are the luck ratings for each team since 2015.  There are around 355 teams in the rankings, and the higher you rank, the better you did in close games:

2016:  Kansas 75, Kentucky 288
2017:  Kansas 32, Kentucky 175
2018:  Kansas 23, Kentucky 199
2019:  Kansas 26, Kentucky 98
2020:  Kansas 79, Kentucky 138
2021:  Kansas 44, Kentucky 354
2022:  Kansas 88, Kentucky 279
2023 (so far):  Kansas 25, Kentucky 323

Now I have to say that this does not look like "luck" at all.  Every year, Kansas is one of the best teams in the country at winning close games -- between 2016 and 2022, they never finished worse than 88th, and four of those years they finished in the top 50.  By contrast, UK is terrible at winning those games -- they only cracked the top 150 twice, and their best performance (98th in 2019) is worse than Kansas's worst performance (88th in 2022).

Remarkably, UK appears to be getting worse in this category.  In 2019 and 2020, the Cats' record was slightly better than its efficiency would predict.  But since then, UK has fallen off a cliff.  This will likely be the third season in a row where UK is one of the worst teams in the country in terms of "luck."

Of course, if Pomeroy's right, and it's all luck, then there's not much anyone can do about it.  But those figures don't look like luck to me.


  1. Maybe instead of luck he should call it coaching.

  2. Here are Coach K's Luck rankings from 2016 to 2022:

    2016: 248
    2017: 150
    2018: 271
    2019: 134
    2020: 209
    2021: 347
    2022: 199

    About the same as Cal's numbers. Here's how K did in his last five NCAA Tournament appearances:

    2016: Lost to Oregon 82-68 in the Sweet 16
    2017: Lost to South Carolina 88-81 in the second round
    2018: Lost to Kansas 85-81 in OT in the Elite Eight
    2019: Lost to Michigan St. 68-67 in the Elite Eight
    2022: Lost to UNC 81-77 in the Final Four

    His career ended on three close heartbreakers. And that's why Ken Pom thinks it's luck and not coaching. But it never feels like luck to me.

  3. UK beats Bellarmine 60-41, moves to 313 on luck.

  4. I was scared to death of this game after Bellarmine had beaten Louisville.

  5. Kentucky is now 5-2, ranked 4th in efficiency on Ken Pom, and ranked 314th in luck. They face an extremely difficult schedule the rest of the way. Ken Pom has them going 23-8 overall, 13-5 in the SEC, tied with Tennessee for first place.

  6. Three-point shooting so far:

    Antonio Reeves: 23-49 (46.9 percent)
    C.J. Frederick: 14-39 (35.9 percent)
    Cason Wallace: 10-24 (41.7 percent)
    Sahvir Wheeler: 6-18 (33.3 percent)

  7. So far, the defense is really good -- 86.4 adjusted efficiency rating, number 4 in the country. That's a significant improvement from last year, when UK was 36th in the country, and when UK's defense killed it down the stretch.

  8. So far, the offense is good but not truly great -- 113.1 adjusted efficiency rating, number 16 in the country. That's down from last year, when UK was 5th in the country with a rating of 120.0. Biggest difference is on the offensive glass, where we aren't getting as many offensive rebounds as we did last year.

  9. Biggest improvement on the defensive side is a lot more blocks -- our block percentage in 9th in the country, up from 69th last year. When Cal has a good defensive team, it's usually top 10 in blocks.