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The Basketball Notebook

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

If It Weren't For Bad Luck. . . .

If it weren't for bad luck, you'd have no luck at all, right? Tell that to Louisiana State. The Tigers have already played the role of tough-luck loser more than most teams do in a full season (Iowa State football notwithstanding). But I'm not here to proclaim doom and gloom; I want to share what LSU fans already know - despite possessing five non-conference losses, their basketball team is pretty damn good.

Here's a recap of the games LSU lost so far this year -

Opponent Score Margin Comment
Houston 83-84 1 -
Northern Iowa 50-54 4 -
@ Cincinnati 72-75 3 LSU missed 3FG at buzzer
@ Ohio State 76-78 2 OSU made 3FG w/ 5 sec left
@ Connecticut 66-67 1 LSU missed 3FG at buzzer

If you're scoring at home, or even if you're by yourself, that's five losses by a total of 11 points. And with the exception of Houston, these losses are all to Top 25-worthy teams. Several of those games were virtual toss-ups at the end; it's probably as likely for LSU to have two losses as it is five.

* * * * * * * * NERD TALK AHEAD * * * * * * * *
I like LSU's outlook because I subscribe to the theory that "luck", for lack of a better word, plays a large part in determining close games. Good teams don't necessarily win more close games than mediocre teams do. If a team's record in close games was a good predictor of its overall strength, you would expect the better teams to have better records in close games, but that's not always the case.

A better indicator of a team's future success can be found by comparing the points it scores and allows. It really comes down to sample sizes. Comparing the successes and failures of a sample size of 1000 (approximate number of LSU possessions so far) is more trust-worthy than one of 15 (number of games played). The Pythagorean winning percentage on Ken Pomeroy's stats page provides that comparison, and even with LSU's five losses, it makes a national ranking of 10-15 appear more appropriate for them than the 30-35 they're currently getting in the polls.
* * * * * * * * NERD TALK DONE * * * * * * * *

The road ahead looks great for at least a couple reasons.

1) Upcoming Schedule
LSU is already 2-0 in SEC play, and it's entirely plausible that they'll be 9-0 when they face Florida on February 11. The next seven games look like this -

@ Mississippi State
vs Alabama
vs Georgia
@ Mississippi
vs Auburn
@ Alabama
vs Arkansas

Arkansas is the only decent team in that list, and LSU already beat them in Fayetteville.

2) Emergence of Tyrus Thomas
Tasmin Mitchell got all the ink in the fall preseason magazines, but fellow freshman Thomas is stealing all the headlines now. Since (more than) earning a starting spot six games ago, Thomas is averaging 15.2 ppg, 11.5 rpg, and a ridiculous 4.5 bpg. The advanced stats look even more dominant - .642 eFG%, .199 Reb%, .121 Blk%. Thomas's name belongs with the likes of Hansbrough, Rush, and McRoberts in the discussion of this seasn's most impactful freshmen. While we're on the subject, let's make a quick comparison of the three big men -

Player MPG O Rtg %Poss eFG% TO% Reb% Blk%
Thomas, LSU
26.2 121.4 22.8 64.2 17.2 19.9 12.1
McRoberts, Duke
22.6 112.7 17.0 61.3 17.6 12.4 5.2
Hansbrough, UNC
28.8 124.8 24.0 63.1 18.0 13.8 2.6

Hansbrough is the only one not playing beside another star big man, so his offensive numbers look even more impressive, but Thomas has been dominant in his shot blocking and rebounding, and has been more than efficient with his scoring.

There aren't many (if any) frontcourts as imposing as the tandem of Thomas and Glen Davis. They currently have LSU in the country's top ten in both offensive and defensive rebounding, and in the top 20 for 2-point FG% allowed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Looking back, it's got to be tough to already see five losses on your schedule. But looking forward, LSU has both a favorable remaining schedule and the country's best freshman sleeper. Maybe Lady Luck isn't out to get them afterall.


  • I think your general premise is right - close games are a matter of luck that equalize over time. But in LSU's case, the fact that they have a huge hole at the point guard position has really hurt them in these games. Against Ohio State in particular, they just failed to execute any semblance of an offense in the last five minutes. LSU is a good team, and will probably get a good seed in the tournament because their schedule will look good and they'll have a good looking record after SEC play. But they'll be a candidate for an upset at the hands of a team with good guard play who can execute in crunch time.

    By Blogger Paul Rugani, at 8:34 AM  

  • Good point. I suppose I did leave out some important facts, such as those you mentioned. LSU's offense turns the ball over with frightening regularity, and three point baskets are a rarity for them, so guard play is their biggest concern.

    By Blogger Ryan, at 9:02 AM  

  • Remember, too, the Tigers have lost by a combined 51 points in their last three tournament games (vs. Wisconsin, '00, vs. Purdue, '03, vs. UAB, '05). It's hard to have a lot of faith in Brady's ability to get his team ready for the NCAAs when they came out against UAB and dribbled straight into the press and jacked up three after quick three.

    By Blogger Jerry Hinnen, at 8:49 PM  

  • Thank you for the positive outlook on LSU. I made my 2006 Final Four predictions last April, right after the 2005 NCAA tournament ended: Duke, Texas, Villanova, and LSU. Then they lost Brandon Bass to the NBA draft and got dragged down by the sucky SEC.

    In other words, LSU was starting to make me look like an idiot. I certainly hope they can turn things around, and at least have a respectable postseason.

    By Blogger Neel Mehta, at 4:36 AM  

  • As an OSU grad who watched the entire LSU-OSU game, I can say without reservation that the Tigers positively gacked that game away. OSU has played their fair share of tight ones thus far, but that's the only one that I honestly felt they should've lost. LSU exploited OSU's main weakness (defensive rebounding) for all it was worth - they MURDERED OSU on the offensive glass. But, as someone said already, when it got down to crunch time they kinda tried to take the air out of the ball and stopped attacking, and the fact that they have a gaping chasm where a PG should be greatly aided OSU's comeback. Also, I think LSU has 4 or 5 freshmen who play prominent roles; losing so many close games in the first half of their first college season seems like a natural result. But yes, they are talented.

    By Blogger Jack Fu, at 10:27 PM  

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