Talent, coaching and home-floor advantage are the main things that decide college basketball outcomes, but we'd be foolish not to acknowledge that there's some luck involved.
These have been some of the unluckiest teams in the country thus far, whether it's because of close losses or injuries. Perhaps it means a second half surge is due on the way to the NCAA tournament.
Purdue is only 9-6, yet is ranked 25 in the NET and 17th at KenPom. There's a few reasons for that: first, the Boilermakers have played a tough schedule and don't have any terrible losses. But they've also lost a bunch of close games, and their wins are generally decisive.
Purdue lost by one against Florida State and four against Texas. It has a two-point win over Maryland, but seven of its nine wins have come by double digits.
A possible reason for this: Purdue is getting scorched at the free-throw line, which is completely out of its control. Opponents are making 77 percent of their free-throws against the Boilermakers, the fifth-highest mark in the nation. Foes also make a high percentage of 3s against Purdue. Some of that is on the defense, but luck comes into play to a certain extent when it comes to contested looks.
Purdue may not reach the heights it did last year, but there's reason to believe the Boilermakers are better than their record suggests.
Florida is 8-5 and sits at No. 23 in both the NET and KenPom, with the No. 9 defense in the land. When the Gators look good, they look really good. They beat Butler by 34, Stanford by 23 and West Virginia by 10. Those are all quality wins regardless of point differential, but when you see how much Florida dominated, it offers a glimpse into how good the Gators can be.
They only have one ugly loss: to Florida State by 21 on opening night. Every other defeat has come by seven points or less, including a two-point heartbreaker against South Carolina on Saturday.
It's also worth mentioning that the guy we thought was going to be Florida's best player coming into the season, Jalen Hudson, has really struggled. He's shooting 32 percent from the floor and 24 percent from 3-point range. That's not bad luck, per se, but there's reason to believe the Gators can improve if Hudson finds his stride. He was awesome in 2017-18, averaging 15.5 points per game.
Florida isn't a team anyone is excited to face.
Scary, right? A quick disclaimer: yes, we know Duke only has one loss. But it came to Gonzaga by two, and outside of that, the Blue Devils haven't really been tested. They rank 216th in KenPom's luck rating. That's because Duke has smoked a bunch of good teams.
It beat Indiana by 21, Texas Tech by 11 and Clemson by 19. Texas Tech is a championship contender, while Indiana and Clemson are likely solid NCAA tournament squads. The Blue Devils are outscoring opponents by an average of 26.8 points per game, an absurd clip.
Most people recognize Duke as the best team in the country, but the point here is that it's really not close if you look at the numbers. You can count on the Blue Devils to win when they take the floor, sure. But you can also count on them to do it in dominant fashion, and that should be recognized.
There's the Bol Bol injury, which is obvious. The freshman phenom was averaging 21 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game and is out for the season. The Ducks looked like the Pac-12's most likely team to make the NCAA tournament. That's in question now.
But there was even unluckiness when Bol was healthy. Highly-touted freshman Louis King missed Oregon's first seven games, and that span accounted for three of the team's five losses. And the Ducks have only lost one game by double digits, a 10-point setback against Baylor.
This would be a team to get excited about in the second half if Bol was healthy, as Oregon was playing really well when King and Bol shared the floor. The Ducks will battle, and the Pac-12 is wide open. But it's fair to temper expectations for now.
Baylor is 9-5 and has lost some real tough ones: by three points to Texas Southern, by one to Stephen F. Austin and by four to TCU. The Bears were predicted to have a down year, but they've been playing much better as of late. There's reason to think they can make the NCAA tournament.
Baylor has impressive wins over Arizona, Oregon and Iowa State, and it's yet to lose a game by double digits. The Bears' 3-point shooting should also regress to the mean. They are shooting less than 30 percent from distance, and while they aren't loaded with shooters, that figure should creep up to around 32 percent with guys like Makai Mason and King McClure in the fold. That's the difference between close wins or losses.
Look for Baylor to be a pest in the Big 12 once again.
Texas has a three-point loss to Oklahoma State, another three-pointer to Radford and a one-point loss to VCU. Its five losses have come by a combined 23 points, and that includes a 10-point setback to Michigan State. This team is in every game, and its worst performance came against a Big Ten title contender in the Spartans. The Longhorns are better than their 10-5 record suggests.
Another reason to like Texas the rest of the way? Because it just recently discovered it has a star center. Jaxson Hayes is making 74.7 percent of his field goals this season and is starting to see more and more minutes; there's buzz that he'll be an NBA lottery pick. Hayes is the ideal modern five: a supreme athlete who can guard all areas of the floor and is a dunk machine. Texas will be better just by using him more.
The Longhorns still probably aren't in the Big 12 championship conversation. But they should be a single-digit NCAA tournament seed come Selection Sunday.
Another opposing free-throw shooting victim, opponents are making 74.1 percent of their foul shots against the Gaels. That's one of the highest clips in the country. There's a lot more to their record than that, but it's a good place to start.
Saint Mary's is 10-7 and, as you likely guessed, has a bevy of close losses. Its last three against LSU, Western Kentucky and San Francisco have come by a combined 11 points. The Gaels rank 321st in KenPom's luck rating.
It's been a down year for Saint Mary's, relatively speaking, but the fall-off hasn't been as drastic as you might think if you just look at the record. The Gaels will probably miss the NCAA tournament unless they snag the auto bid, but look for them to finish near the top of the WCC despite their poor nonconference performance.