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The Randomness of College Basketball

One of the things that makes the NCAA Tournament the great sporting specatacle that it has become is the complete and utter randomness of its events. In a seven game series, UNC beats George Mason, Iowa takes out Northwestern St, Pitt beats Bradley, etc. But in a one game scenario, random events can occur and change outcomes. That is why, in part, the evaluation of coaches cannot and should not be based only on what they do in the tournament. The tournament is a large part of what goes into evaluating a coach or program, but it should not be the sole factor.

Case in point, the last two years of Kentucky’s tournament run. Many like to criticize Tubby Smith because he hasnt “made a Final 4 with his own players.” But I like to point to last year’s game with Michigan St. When Patrick Sparks went up for his game tying three in regulation, it could be argued that he was fouled by the Spartans’ player. Ok, lets say they call that foul and Sparks makes the free throw…..is Tubby a better coach? Or is it that the random choice to make the foul call or not, determined that aspect of the game and thus evaluating a coach based on it is silly?

Take yesterday. With three minutes to go, the Cats down 2 and with the momentum, the referee makes a faulty call, giving an out of bounds possession to UCONN and not the Cats. Had they given the ball to the Cats, and they then scored exactly what they did on their next possession, a three, the Cats go up 1 and maybe win the game. Ball goes the other way….Williams makes a layup…no one rebounds free throws and the Cats get the ball down 7. So lets say that the referee gets the call correct. Cats make the three, up 1….is Tubby a better coach, the Cats a better team, or UCONN more of a choker because of that call?

Basketball is great, in large part because it is random. Like all random occurrences, if you spread them out over a long period, the randomness goes away and true success can be measured. That is why I consider John Chaney overrated….he had a long Division I career and never truly made a splash, only having a top team in the Mark Macon year and never making a Final 4. But in a one-game scenario, randomness can decide a great deal.

Yesterday, Kentucky could have won that game….and with the way the bracket has opened up, the Cats could have made the Final 4 wiht the worst team of the Tubby Smith era. If that had happened, many would have lauded Smith and said that this was the most successful season in recent years. But it wouldnt have been. The team is still not good and UCONN beats the Cats 8 of 10 if not 9 of 10 times. But if the referee had blown that whistle, the Cats would be no better, Tubby no better but randomness would have won. That is why basketball is great, but it is also why being a coach and dealing with the daily criticism that goes with that job….especially in Kentucky….must be so maddening.

Article written by Matt Jones