The 2006-2007 basketball season was a fun one for Ducks fans. Oregon made it to the Elite Eight, and finished the season 29-8, losing by eight points to the eventual champion, the Florida Gators. If you don’t recall, during the previous year the Ducks went an uninspiring 15-18 (7-11), finishing seventh in the Pac-10, and leaving little encouragement for the 2006-2007 season. At least one outlet picked the Ducks to finish fifth in the Pac-10 that year and miss out on the NCAA Tournament completely. But one Ken Pomeroy, college basketball stats dude extraordinaire, had some other things to say about the Ducks. Or, at least, his stats did. I came across this little nugget about the 2005-2007 Oregon Ducks basketball teams in August of 2006:
Another disappointing season for Malik Hairston, Aaron Brooks, and Co., right? But the season wasn’t necessarily as bad as it looked. Not when you consider that the Ducks led the nation in losses by luck. Had the breaks merely evened out for Oregon, they would have been 20-13 and perhaps an at-large team instead of postseason-less. Oregon was involved in nine games decided by 3 or less, and was victorious just once. And that doesn’t include the season-ending double-OT loss to Cal.
Don’t be surprised if Oregon’s record improves dramatically in the finale for Brooks (and the junior Hairston?), even if their play doesn’t. And if their performance improves as much as it did between ‘05 and ‘06, we’ll be talking about a team that wins 12 or 13 Pac-10 games and gets a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, despite a pathetic non-conference schedule. You heard it here first: 2007 is the year of Chamberlain Oguchi (or Maarty Leunen – I haven’t decided).
It turns out that not only did Oregon’s “luck” even out, but it added Tajuan Porter and the existing pieces did get a little better. The Ducks didn’t quite get to twelve pac-10 wins, finishing 11-7—and it was definitely more the year of Leunen than Oguchi—but it’s hard to ignore the luck factor.
Teams that shoot free throws well or have smart guards that can control the ball against a late, frantic press definitely have the ability to win close games and outperform their point differentials. But there is a powerful force known as regression to the mean that is also at work, and ignoring it in a future projection would be foolish. Pomeroy was essentially saying, “Hey look, guys. Oregon performed terribly in close games, but it’s so hard to be that bad that the Ducks have to get better in those situations.” And they did. The Ducks went 6-4 in OT games and games decided by three points or less during the 2006-2007 season.
In my Oregon-Louisville preview coming up before the big game, we’ll definitely talk some more about this “luck” thing.