As the saying goes, it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s even better if you can be both, as the teams listed below were last season. All of them made the NCAA tournament thanks partly to records heavy on statistical luck. Each of these teams finished in the top 50 in Ken Pomeroy’s luck ratings last season, which measures efficiency performance and expected win rates against actual results.
Whether it’s changes in personnel, a new league, or both, these four teams -- three of which likely will still be quite good next year -- will have a hard time matching this season’s exploits.
Brad Stevens is as good as there is, but even he has limits, and one of those may be wringing a comparably big season from his Bulldogs as they make their second league jump in two seasons. After only one season in the Atlantic 10, the Bulldogs now ascend to the new Big East, and will have to do so without lead guard Rotnei Clarke and underhyped big man Andrew Smith, who had an excellent senior season last year.
Butler was not only somewhat statistically fortunate last season, but it was fortunate in some of its biggest spots, with crazy last-second shots giving them wins over Marquette (in the regular-season meeting in Hawaii) and Gonzaga, sandwiched around the delicious craziness of the win over Indiana. Down the stretch of the season, the Bulldogs struggled more with athletic and/or physical teams that could defend. They’ll find their fair share of those in the Big East next season, too.
Butler returns good talent and has another strong recruiting class coming in, but the Bulldogs also only return one player (Kellen Dunham) that shot better than 31 percent from the arc last season. Combine a smaller margin for error with another step up in physical class, and you could see a dip.
The Lobos should see a decent amount of continuity from Steve Alford to new coach Craig Neal, they return four starters, and the Mountain West won’t be quite as good at the top as last season. So what are the Lobos doing on this list? Well, the one starter gone is Tony Snell, New Mexico’s most talented perimeter scorer (with all due respect to Kendall Williams’ explosion at Colorado State), and we’ll see if the coach’s son swap from an Alford to a Neal has any impact on the overall talent and depth of the team.
I defended the Lobos’ low margin of victory last season as a byproduct of how they played and the league in which they compete, and then it went bust in a galling upset loss to Harvard in the NCAAs. With a coaching transition of sorts and a little less perimeter firepower, maybe that small margin for error comes up craps more often during this regular season. The Lobos should still be plenty good, but maybe not 29-wins good.
Coming off a 31-win season and a Round of 32 appearance in the NCAAs, the Tigers will be back next season without D.J. Stephens (senior), Adonis Thomas (early entry), Tarik Black (graduate transfer to Kansas) and Antonio Barton (transfer to Tennessee). What’s expected to be a monster recruiting class will help smooth over those losses, but as Memphis itself learned over the past three seasons, inexperienced teams sometimes don’t get or earn fortunate bounces.
Add in that the Tigers are moving to the newly named American Athletic Conference, with Louisville, UConn, Cincinnati and Temple, among others, waiting for them, and a repeat of last season’s win total looks like a significant reach.
Kansas StateThe Wildcats had a fairly fortunate season statistically, and it helped them grab a share of the Big 12 title, but the offseason has been anything but fortunate. The unexpected transfer of Angel Rodriguez to Miami caps off a massive talent drain from the program and puts the Wildcats squarely in rebuilding mode. Whether Bruce Weber can manage that better than he did at Illinois after the 2005 national title game appearance has yet to be seen.