Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/12/2008 10:55:00 PM
The Meaning of Bad Luck
"I guess I'm one of the those guys where it's half empty instead of half full. I look back at the Pitt loss, I look back at the Oklahoma loss, I look back at the Georgetown loss, I look back at the Tennessee loss and say what if? I mean, all of a sudden now we're 26 wins and we're probably ranked in the Top 10, well, we are ranked in the Top 10 in the country even if we win half of those, two of those four. -- Bob Huggins on his 23-9 Mountaineers, after beating Providence on Wednesday
NEW YORK -- Two things I think we can all agree on: Bob Huggins has his half-glass idiom backwards, and West Virginia was capable of being a better team than its 23-9 record has suggested. While the Mountaineers are buried at No. 36 in The Associated Press' poll's others receiving votes section, they're No. 18 in kenpom.com's Pythagorean winning-percentage formula, which is based on efficiency numbers rather than actual game results.
Statistically, there's a way to explain this discrepancy. According to kenpom.com, West Virginia has been one of the nation's unluckiest teams, ranking 265th in his "luck" metric, which is not a measure of intangibles, but rather, "the deviation in winning percentage between a team's actual record and their expected record using the correlated gaussian method." I won't waste your time explaining correlated gaussian method. Basically: the numbers say that the Mountaineers, who will likely enter the NCAA tournament as no higher than a No. 8 seed, were just as efficient as some teams that will be No. 4s and 5s. The difference was that WVU hardly managed to pull out any of its big, close games -- resulting in those losses to which Huggins alluded.
So: Is this "unluckiness" metric a worthy tool for finding under-seeded teams -- and therefore, potential darkhorses -- in the NCAA tournament? Or is "unluckiness," the way kenpom.com defines it, an indication that the team should be expected to continue to fail in crunch-time situations? The limited evidence that we have supports the latter.
• Xavier (21-11): Ranked 298th in luck; lost in the first round to Gonzaga (3/14 seed) • Arkansas (22-10): Ranked 292nd in luck, lost in the first round to Bucknell (9/8 upset) • West Virginia (22-11): Ranked 281st in luck, lost in the Sweet 16 to Texas (2/6) • Kansas (25-8): Ranked 261st in luck, lost in the first round to Bradley (13/4 upset)
• Duke (22-11): Ranked 313th in luck, lost in first round to VCU (11/6 upset) • Georgia Tech (20-12): Ranked 306th in luck, lost in first round to UNLV (7/10) • Indiana (21-11): Ranked 298th in luck, lost in second round to UCLA (2/7) • Xavier (25-9): Ranked 279th in luck, lost in second round to Ohio State (1/9)
Five of those eight teams lost in the first round, three as upset victims. West Virginia reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 6, but only by beating an 11 and a 14 seed. The odds of a darkhorse tourney run seem stacked against the "unluckiest" teams in 2008 -- or at least three of the four:
• Arizona (18-13): Ranked 317th in luck, 23rd in Pythagorean Win% • Louisville (24-7): Ranked 287th in luck, 7th in Pythagorean Win% • Kansas State (20-11): Ranked 266th in luck, 13th in Pythagorean Win% • West Virginia (22-9): Ranked 265th in luck, 18th in Pythagorean Win%
Rick Pitino's Cards should get a pass here; they were hobbled for much of the season, and the ultra-efficient run they've gone on in the second half of Big East play has thrown their year-long averages out of whack. Arizona, Kansas State and West Virginia, though, look like teams that are destined not to capitalize on oodles of statistical potential.
Interesting that Xavier was one of the four unluckiest in both of the last two seasons, and that WVU qualifies for two of the three (including this season).
You can't make the argument for coaching as the cause, considering Beilein headed one of those "unlucky" years and Huggins the other. Perhaps it's a reflection of the players' (in)ability to come through in the crunch? Xavier seems to scuttle that theory, as they've got six upperclassmen on the roster and are all the way up to a 71st-place ranking in the luck metrics.
Either way, an interesting look at Pomeroy's data.
"correlated gaussian" is a fancy way for saying that the noise around the win-loss margin is a "bell curve" and, all things being equal, wins and losses should be distributed the same on either side. "Unlucky" is saying that they were on the loss side more than the "normal" or average number of times. Of course, we know that there are a lot of unmeasurable factors at that critical point - ref calls (look at UCLA vs Cal recently...talk about LUCK!); injuries; motivation and energy, depth of the bench; confidence; "meat necklaces"...the list is long.
The point is, however, that this stuff is NOT distributed equally, nor like a bell-curve. But, someone looking for a fun degree or livelihood put numbers on "luck" and a fancy name, and voila! Instant bafflegab.
If the game is close enough, or one team gets fat and happy while the other gets motivated, or there is a critical foul or injury, any team can win on a given day. That's why we love the game!
Hey Luke, I got a question about the Big-12 and the "bubble watch"...
Baylor has a higher RPI than KState (the "Beasley Boys"), and has beaten TXAM (and has a higher win percentage). TXAM meanwhile has beaten KState, Oklahoma, and Texas (all "locks" for the Dance). All of this in the conference w/the #2 conf. RPI and #2 conf. strength of schedule. But, TXAM has a 50/50 record in the conference (thanks to a 50T loss to...you know it! - Baylor!). What do you think? One more win each in the Big-12 opening, and good showings in the 2nd round...are they in? Or is it NIT-bound for both?
this is pure crap. pomeroy is pure crap. he uses a bunch of fancy stat terms to disguise the fact that he ranks people based on the way he likes them. he hates the SEC and it shows in his rankings. He just hides it behind statistical jargon. I am glad its tourney time so the overhyped jr. varsity schools like xavier, drake, butler, gonzaga, etc. can get their ass kicked and go home where some moron like pomeroy will invent some other subjective ranking for next year.