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A look at Kenpom’s luck factor and how the Atlantic 10 has faired

When talking college basketball analytics, few people consider “luck” as a factor for a team’s performance. However, Kenpom actually keeps a running metric on every college basketball team’s luck. You can sort his data by the give metric to find out which teams are the luckiest and unluckiest. As of right now, Wagner is the luckiest team in college basketball with a +.314 measure, and High Point ranks last at -2.61.

But what the heck does any of that mean?

Ken Pomeroy describes luck in his blog as “the deviation in winning percentage between a team’s actual record and their expected record using the correlated gaussian method.” Basically, a very “lucky” team will be one with a record much better than what it should be; you’ll see a team like Connecticut (ranking 3rd overall in luck) has escaped in overtime against both Monmouth and Columbia. Subsequently, its 6-2 record is a pretty good indicator of how lucky its been. Similarly, a team like Wisconsin has lost some close games and sits at 3-5, much worse than one would expect. As a result, the Badgers have the 3rd worst luck ranking in the league.

Unfortunately, Kenpom does not give ratings of luck based on conference overall. However, we can look at all of the Atlantic 10 teams’ current luck measures and find an average. In particular, we’ll see that certain teams off to somewhat rough starts have not faired well in the luck category. Here’s a look at the best to worst.

#46 George Mason

#62 George Washington

#76 Saint Joseph’s

#78 La Salle

#112 Rhode Island

#155 Saint Louis

#213 VCU

#218 St. Bonaventure

#228 Fordham

#293 Richmond

#301 Dayton

#311 Duquesne

#328 Davidson

#343 Massachusetts

This gives the Atlantic 10 an average ranking of 197, which given 351 teams in the league, means the conference has to be below average. It’s no surprise, considering the league has 4 teams that rank in the 300s when it comes to luck this year. Dayton, Davidson, Duquesne, and Massachusetts are among the lowest in the country. Massachusetts’ close losses to Harvard, BYU, and Quinnipiac make it a prime candidate to be one of the unluckiest teams in the country.

Surprisingly, George Mason with a 4-4 record is right now one of the luckier teams in the nation. Considering its been in very tight battles with James Madison, Lafayette, and Cal St. Northridge, this might not seem as that much of a surprise, in spite of the mediocre record. Kenpom makes note that a very lucky team will rank lower than that team’s record suggests. Subsequently, you could expect a team with a very unlucky metric to rank higher than the given record. Such may be the case with Davidson: ranking 76th with a 3-3 record.

But it might not be so much luck when we’re talking about the Atlantic 10. Let’s consider something else: has the league just been really bad at closing games? Looking at all of the teams ranked 200 and worse, I’d say that you could point to at least one example for each. VCU had Michigan knotted up late in the game and lost in the final minutes. Niagara had just an 18.6% chance of beating St. Bonaventure midway through the 2nd half; that game went the other way. Fordham had a brutal blown lead against Miami OH to start the season. Richmond and Duquesne have just been bad, especially at home in close fights. I already mentioned Massachusetts above, and Dayton just lost a game at Mississippi St. on a turnover when it had the last possession.

Davidson’s an interesting case, especially because this team hasn’t really choked down the stretch this year. Appalachian St. was a bad loss, but the Wildcats trailed the whole game and were never in it. I think the Wildcats rank so low partly because of last year’s late leads lost, especially against power teams Dayton and Rhode Island. We have to remember that Kenpom’s data doesn’t remove preseason projections entirely until January. However, it’s interesting to see the Wildcats ranking so low in terms of luck this season.

But all in all, I think we need to look at this measure and realize that Atlantic 10 teams are probably better than their records suggest right now, based on Kenpom’s explanation for luck. However, that means absolutely nothing if you can’t win games. Unfortunately, the league as a whole seems to, more often than not, have been on the wrong side of some close battles. I don’t have a remedy to this problem other than: close games!

Honestly, the lack of coaching experience throughout the league and the relative youth of A-10 teams is probably contributing to this trend. Being “unlucky” is more than likely just a matter of lack of experience, especially down the stretch in late-game situations. This shows how important seniors are, and it points to teams like La Salle, Davidson, and St. Bonaventure as teams that could be top 4 finishers.

It’s a rebuilding year for the conference as a whole, and it’d be incredible to see the league get 2 or 3 bids this year. Unfortunately, the way non-conference play has been going, it looks like we could only get 1.

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Grant Labedz is a college basketball superfan who loves the entire sport but definitely has favorites in the A-10 and the Big Ten. He has written for ...