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Reversion towards the Mean in the A-10

Luck, by definition, involves factors out of our control. It certainly plays a large role in sports, and the start of this A-10 season shows why you can’t count on it to always be for you or against you.

George Mason was expected to do well this year. They were picked fourth in both the official A-10 preseason poll and our site’s ranking. Yet this is a bit misleading, as in both ranking they were tight on the heels of the the teams in second and third but solidly ahead of Rhode Island in fifth place. More than half of the A-10 talk staff predicted George Mason to finish in the top three.

Yet, analytics suggested George Mason may have had more reasons to worry. Thought the team finished 9-9 in conference, they had a lucky draw in opponents they faced off against. They got two games each against UMass and George Washington who both found themselves in the bottom four of the conference. They played each of the top three teams only once: losing to St. Bonaventure by 16, Rhode Island by 19, and Davidson by 27. The team managed a decent record because it went 10-2 in games decided in overtime or by five points. In basically all team sports, such fortune has been shown to be very difficult to repeat (even if you have Ian Boyd on your team). Kenpom actually rated George Mason as one of the worst teams in the A-10 last year, with a final ranking of 220. In the luck category, however, the Patriots were fifth in the nation.

Which takes us to this year. George Mason has started off the season with a home loss to Penn by 1 and a defeat to American in overtime. The team isn’t playing that much worse last year, but it’s luck simply hasn’t been there.

By contrast, Davidson was one of the unluckiest teams last year, ranking 318th according to Kenpom. The team went 3-5 in games decided in overtime by five or less, including its 117-113 triple overtime loss to St. Bonaventure. Kenpom had Davidson as the best team in the conference last season. Even with the loss of A-10 player of the year Peyton Aldridge, Davidson was positioned to stay near or atop of the conference.

Lo and behold, Davidson, like George Mason, found itself fighting off a pesky Ivy League competitor this week. The result was different, however: Davidson eked out a three point win against Dartmouth. This is hardly anything for the Wildcats to write home about, but at least they avoided a resume killing loss in the first week of the season.

Davidson cannot count on winning all of its close games this year, and George Mason is not doomed to defeat in all tight contests. But reversion to the mean for both sides was all too predictable.