Friday, February 8, 2008

I make my own luck

I’m not sure why this wasn’t an insider column (like everything else), but Andy Glockner has a nice column that suggests that Georgetown is lucky to be 5-2 against the RPI top 50. Meanwhile, Ken Pomeroy posted a column explaining why the adjusted tempo-free stats still think Illinois is a good team and that his ratings suggest that Illinois has been the unluckiest team in the country. My question today is whether you can learn anything from teams with an extremely high or low luck rating.

For example, in baseball, when a team massively underperforms relative to the Pythagorean standings, this is usually a sign that the team has a poor bullpen. In hockey, when a team massively underperforms relative to goal scored differential, it is usually a sign of poor goaltending. If football had a similar measure, well severe underperformance would probably be a sign that you have Joey Harrington as your QB. (Joey always seems to keep you in the game and then lose at the end.) So what does it mean in basketball when you severely under-perform relative to your adjusted tempo free point per possession differential?

One answer is that it tends to emphasize teams that can’t make free throws. This was never more apparent than in Thursday’s Illinois – Indiana game where Illinois SENIOR Shaun Pruitt went to the line with a chance to win the game and missed badly. (Honestly, how many Illinois fans wished that Lance Stemler had gotten the jump ball call there – possession arrow Illinois – so that Illinois could have taken any shot other than Pruitt at the free throw line.) But extremely bad luck measures more than just poor free throw percentage. A team can have a poor free throw percentage as a whole, but as long as there are one or two players with high free throw percentages to handle the ball at the end of the game, the team can usually compensate.

To some extent, good luck may measure a team that has intangible qualities such as specialized role players to execute in specific game situations. Georgetown for example has a special defensive package at the end of the game that includes Patrick Ewing Jr. Go ask West Virginia how important it is to have a mobile big man defending you at the end of the game.

Bad luck can also indicate when a team doesn’t have a go-to scorer or a good ball handler. Both of these apply to Illinois who consistently turns the ball over at the end of close games. Good luck can also represent a team that has fundamentally good coaching. Who wouldn’t want Tom Izzo to draw up an offensive set when you need a basket? This is all my way of saying that there is more to Ken Pomeroy’s luck rating than just luck. Execution in late game situations is part luck and part skill, and like a baseball team without a closer, Illinois’ extremely poor performance in close games is more than just chance.

Fundamental Facts

You hear the same clichés every year.

1) With Bo Ryan as coach, no Big Ten team (other than Illinois) has won at Wisconsin.
2) No team has ever won twice at the Peterson event center (Pittsburgh’s home arena).
And West Virginia learned a third law the hard way.
3) Never leave Ronald Ramon open with the game on the line.

With West Virginia up by two, the West Virginia defender sagged off Ramon to help stop dribble penetration in the lane. Pittsburgh kicked the ball out to Ramon who buried a three pointer for the win. The worst part of helping off of Ramon (on the ball-side of the court mind you) was that if Pittsburgh had taken a two point shot in the lane, the game would have at worst gone to overtime. Instead Ramon proved that he is still the most lethal shooter in the Big East when left wide open. (Game recap here.)