Holy Cross was featured today on SI.com by Andy Glockner for doing something that must be a pretty rare occurrence, being the unluckiest team in America for two seasons in a row. The Crusaders are an astounding 3-20 in games decided by five point or less the past two seasons.
It’s generally assumed that luck doesn’t carry over in that fashion. It’s much more likely that a team will drop back into the middle of the pack the next season. That’s because being “unlucky”, at least how Ken Pomeroy defines it, isn’t caused by any single attribute in a basketball game. Want proof? Just look at teams similar to those Holy Cross squads have done in the past.
Last season Holy Cross went 8-21 overall with a KenPom rating of 232 and a luck ranking of 345 (last). But if you look at the 10 closest team similarities to the squad since 2004 they average out to a bland ball club with an 18-14 record, a 139 KenPom ranking and a 173 luck rank (right in the middle). 2011 Michigan State is throwing off the KenPom ranking a little bit (though the similarity scores are strength of schedule adjusted), but the remaining teams are all mid-majors. Basically, teams with Holy Cross’ 2011 profile were a lot better overall.
But maybe that was just an aberration. What about the 2010 Holy Cross team? It turns out they weren’t unlucky by any cause of their own either. That team went 9-22, with a 226 KenPom rating and a 347 luck rating. The average of their 10 closest comparisons? 15-15, 269, 149. Again, the Crusaders underperformed a little compared to teams that played a similar style, but luck really didn’t impact the sample one way or another. It all averaged out in the end. Want to know how you can really tell? 2010 Holy Cross’ second best comparison is 2010 Oakland, which finished first overall in luck that season.
You can see the same thing if you look at the teams that were at the top of the ratings the last two seasons instead. As mentioned above, Oakland finished first in 2010. The average luck of their closest 10 comparisons? 162. While the Grizzlies went 26-9 in 2010, their comparisons suggest that a 17-15 record would’ve been more appropriate given the circumstances.
And last season Bethune-Cookman led the way in luck by going 21-13 while finishing 294th overall in the KenPom ratings. The average luck of their closest 10 comparisons? 151st (and an 11-19 record).
There’s absolutely no cause for alarm in Worchester. Holy Cross’ bad luck should just wash away, but I’m sure no one would blame the Crusaders if they try the four-leaf clover trick that Glockner suggests.