It’s March and I do not give a whit about KenPom.com’s advanced analytics. I neither subscribe to nor believe his ADJo, his ADJd, his eFG or his TSP.
He can SHOV ’em.
Ken Pomeroy is a full-time meteorologist and moonlighting basketball mathematician who is smart enough to include among his many formulas the most feared and cherished variable in college basketball: LUCK.
I laugh every time I see it. According to KenPom, Arizona has a plus .045 luck factor. How good is that? It’s 78th in the nation.
I suppose Arizona’s luck factor would be much higher had not Brandon Ashley messed up his foot (really bad luck) or had Aaron Gordon been born with the gift of making uncontested 15-foot free throws (55 percent bad luck) as opposed to his gravity-defying dunks (0 percent bad luck).
In March the only basketball formula I believe in is OTS.
Out Too Soon.
In Arizona’s 27 NCAA tournament appearances dating to 1985, the Wildcats have been OTS 22 times. I have walked into the UA locker room after each of its 26 exits and its one national championship, and you don’t need a weatherman to judge the OTS factor.
The chance for precipitation, for Kenny Lofton-type crocodile tears, is the easiest of all March analytical factors to compute.
Lofton, who would go on to be a sensational baseball player, a six-time All-Star, led the NCAA tournament in tears after 1987, 1988 and 1989 OTS losses to UTEP, Oklahoma and UNLV.
That’s how I’ve judged Arizona basketball seasons since 1985. If someone is crying, if Grant Jerrett has a towel covering his face for 23 minutes, you are OTS.
If Channing Frye is sobbing on Lute Olson‘s shoulder, it’s OTS with a minus .099 luck factor.
All that matters once Arizona begins this wonderful madness Thursday in Las Vegas is the Out Too Soon quotient.
You may disagree, but I contend Arizona exited just five of 27 NCAA tournament appearances without a toxic OTS hangover that never seems to go away. In addition to UA’s 1997 national title, here they are:
1985: Alabama 50, Arizona 41, Albuquerque, first round. It was Olson’s first Big Dance at Arizona and the Wildcats, a No. 10 seed, weren’t ready for a national stage. They shot 29 percent. They scored 41 points. They weren’t cheated.
1994: Arkansas 91, Arizona 82, Charlotte, Final Four. The Razorbacks’ “40 Minutes of Hell” was just that for the Wildcats, whose star guards, Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire combined to shoot 2 for 22 from three-point range. The better team won. No regrets.
2002: Oklahoma 88, Arizona 67, San Jose, Sweet 16. It was a rare ‘tweener season at Arizona; the Wildcats were fortunate to get that far and they knew it, squeaking by less-than-formidable Wyoming and UC-Santa Barbara a week earlier.
2009: Louisville 103, Arizona 64, Indianapolis, Sweet 16. How Russ Pennell coached that fractured team to the Sweet 16 remains a mystery.
That’s it. Arizona’s remaining 22 NCAA tournament exits came with myriad regrets and various degrees of heartbreak. It embodies the notion that the Out-Too-Soon element is neither fair nor predictable.
You might assume 25-8 Arizona’s 1990 second-round exit against Alabama was acceptable; after all, the 26-9 Crimson Tide won easily, 77-55, and they had budding big-game legend Robert Horry.
But it was an OTS because the UA’s best player, lottery pick Bison Dele (Brian Williams) didn’t make a bucket, not even a free throw, and in the locker room afterward the heart and soul of the club, Jud Buechler couldn’t stop dabbing away tears.
Out Too Soon.
That 2005 Elite Eight overtime loss to No. 1 Illinois? Don’t even ask. That exit remains radioactive. It is OTS-plus.
Until further notice, Arizona’s basketball life expectancy will dominate conversation in this frontier settlement for every waking hour. Given 27 seasons of data, Arizona has a 19 percent chance of exiting the season FGAI — Feeling Good About Itself.
In March, I’ve seen fire, I’ve seen rain, I’ve seen shame.
But nothing can exceed the holy mess I witnessed at Pauley Pavilion in March 1981. That’s when 26-1 Oregon State was the overall favorite to win the national title. That’s when OTS required exclamation points.
The ’81 Beavers were very much like the ’14 Wildcats. Their senior guards, Ray Blume and Mark Radford, were Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell of that generation. They had the league’s most ballyhooed freshman, Charlie Sitton, who was the 1981 Aaron Gordon. They were the league’s top defensive team.
They were going to win it all.
Instead, the Beavers got unlucky and, after a first-round bye, drew Kansas State (19-8), a deliberate team blessed with a future Olympic and NBA star, Rolando Blackman.
K-State sat on the ball in the pre-shot clock era. Tied at 48, Sitton missed the first of a one-and-one free throw situation. KSU didn’t call time out; it passed to Blackman, who buried a 15-footer at the buzzer. KSU won 50-48.
Blackman’s final shot was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated under, “The Mighty Have Fallen.”
It should’ve said, “Out Too Soon.’’
Embrace the madness. It never ends.