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The ‘unlucky’ label doesn’t fit Iowa and Utah

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The topic of luck in sporting events is a tough one to broach with fans, as we tend to think about the outcomes of those games in absolutes.

You win, you’re the better team, even if that win came on your home court on a 35-foot buzzer-beater on a night where a 30% three-point shooting team went 8-for-10 from beyond the arc. That’s the way a sports fan’s mind works, because they want to believe that what happened during the course of a game wasn’t fluky or random or “lucky”.

On Tuesday, John Gasaway of ESPN Insider published his list of the unluckiest teams in college basketball in 2013-2014, a stat that he determined by looking at a team’s record based on what was expected given that team’s per-possession performance.

No. 1 on that list was Tennessee, a team that made the Sweet 16 and finished No. 7 nationally in KenPom’s rankings despite going 24-13 overall and 11-7 in the mediocre SEC. It’s not hard to find anecdotal evidence to support this point — the Vols twice lost to Texas A&M when Antwan Space, who hit 13 threes all season long, made a buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer — which makes it easy for me to be on the same page calling the Vols “unlucky”.

But I have a hard time calling a couple of the other teams on this list “unlucky”.

Take No. 4 Iowa as an example. The Hawkeyes had enough talent on their roster to be a top ten team, but their issues had nothing to do with being unlucky or having the ball bounce their opponents’ way. They routinely blew late leads in games that they should have won, they couldn’t defend anyone and they completely lost their confidence over the last month of the season. They should be better than they were last season, and if they are, it will be because they developed the mental maturity to execute during a close game down the stretch and because they improved defensively.

The same can be said for Utah, who checks in at No. 6 on that list. The reason they missed out on the NCAA tournament was because their non-conference schedule was an absolute joke and because they couldn’t close out close games, particularly on the road. Of their 10 regular season losses, only one was by double figures and only two were by more than four points. They were 0-3 in overtime games and 0-5 in games decided by a single possession.

Winning is a skill. The mental fortitude to be able to execute in crunch time — being “clutch” — is a skill. Utah didn’t have either of them last season.

I get the point that Gasaway is trying to make: Utah and Iowa were probably better than their record indicated last season. I agree.

But let’s not pin their relative lack of success of being “unlucky”. Leaving it up to chance takes away fault, and the bottom line is that those two teams lost games they shouldn’t have lost.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?