Is No. 9 Kansas lucky … or good? (Spoiler: It’s the latter)

Frank Mason and the Jayhawks had to scratch and claw their way to victory Wednesday night at TCU. 

Tony Gutierrez/AP

According to statistical behemoth Ken Pomeroy — the hamster turning the wheels at kenpom.com, don’t pretend you’ve never looked — the Kansas Jayhawks are the second-luckiest college basketball team in America.

Actually, let’s clarify that for a second. As of 10:43 p.m. Central time Wednesday night, KU ranked second in the nation in what Kenny the stat hamster calls "luck rating," at +.165. (High Point’s Panthers, beasts of the Big South, were tops, at +.211.)

What in the name of Raftery, you ask, is "luck rating?" Ken explains all on his blog:

A measure of the deviation between a team’s actual winning percentage and what one would expect from its game-by-game efficiencies. It’s a Dean Oliver invention. Essentially, a team involved in a lot of close games should not win (or lose) all of them. Those that do will be viewed as lucky (or unlucky).

All righty. So from this we learned:

a. That KU moving to 6-1 this season in games decided by six points or less — the sixth a kitten’s-whisker of a 64-61 victory at Texas Christian — is luck. Or lucky. Or whatever.

b. This is all Dean’s fault, and stop throwing things at Kenny.

Well, let’s put Oliver and Pomeroy aside for a minute and ask a serious question, a question with a bit more weight after the Jayhawks had to hang on for dear life inside a building that looked an awful lot like a YMCA, Topeka or otherwise.

Are the Jayhawks (17-3, 6-1 Big 12) threatening to snatch an 11th straight Big 12 title from a league that had allegedly "closed the gap" (feel free to use your own air quotes as you read along, it’s more fun) simply because of … good fortune?

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Lady Luck?

Manna from heaven?

A rabbit foot shaped like James Naismith?

Or is it something else?

You can talk about depth and finishing (or lack thereof) and the cold-blooded point guards and the defense, but one thing doesn’t get talked about enough with Team Rock Chalk: Its ability to TCB.

Take Care of Business. Just like Elvis.

TCU, home and away (but especially away), is a business trip. When a basketball school (you) plays a football school (them), the trick is not getting lulled to sleep by the name on the front of the jersey, the venue (or lack thereof), the crowd, whatever. No team — not even Kentucky — brings its A game every night, especially in league play, especially on the road. But there are dance partners, nights, where that B game, at least, should be enough. The Froggies (14-6, 1-6 Big 12) are one of ’em: Better, but not there yet.

KU tracks a number of fun little statistics, too. Our personal favorites are in a little chart at the bottom of page 14 of the game notes: "Floor burns" (which we’ll double-back to the next time Jamari Traylor gives a lung for the cause); and, for the purposes of this discussion, "FT-FTA/LAST 5:00/OT."

And that last number is of particular interest, especially where Jayhawks-Horned Frogs was concerned.

Before Wednesday night, KU was finishing games at the charity stripe — last five minutes of regulation and overtime — at a clip of 88.7 percent (94-106). KU opponents: 68.1 (47-69).

It’s a big stat, and a big difference, a gap made larger by the fact the Big 12 — even as the non-Kansas-media types start to toss tomatoes at it or pout about the Jayhawks’ decade of dominance — is, on paper, this close (feel free to make a little gap with your thumb and pointy finger, it’s also more fun) from spots one through seven, all of whom hit midweek among the top 40 in terms of Ratings Percentage Index rating.

Indeed, here was how the final five minutes at the free-throw stripe in Fort Worth played out:

KU: five for 10, 50 percent.

TCU: seven for 12, 58.3 percent.

Although the final 75 seconds — the Frogs trailed, 59-54, with 1:17 to go — were more telling:


KU: five for nine, 55.6 percent.

TCU: one for four, 25 percent.

The Jayhawks, who could have put this puppy to bed a lot sooner, tightened up. The Frogs, who needed blood from every last turnip, gagged.

It’s better to be good than lucky. The Jayhawks are still more the former than the latter, no matter what anybody tries to tell you otherwise.

There’s a method to this, an edge, the kind of little thing coach Bill Self probably never gets enough credit for because the focus in Lawrence, like the expectations, is so tied to the big picture. There’s a reason Self wants Brannen Greene (14 for 15 on those "clutch" free throws before Wednesday) on the floor, despite his defensive issues, late in close games; ditto Perry Ellis (15 for 16), Devonte’ Graham (22 for 24), Wayne Selden (seven for eight) and Frank Mason (19 for 23), although Mason, who whiffed badly on two attempts with four seconds left that would’ve made the prayer from Charles Hill that ended the game irrelevant, is starting to raise the blood pressure a tad.

In football parlance, they’re Self’s "hands" team. And the last thing he wants is a Green Bay-Seattle moment at the end of the evening.

Although, if it got tight — and it did, thanks to a 13-7 TCU run that started with eight minutes left in the contest and KU up nine — you could already draw up how this was likely going to end. The Jayhawks went into Wednesday night ranked 100th nationally in free-throw percentage (71.3); TCU rolled up at No. 341 (61.4).

Sure enough: KU, 13 for 20. Frogs: 15 for 29.

TCU is 0-3 in games decided by six points or less. Iowa State is 5-3, West Virginia 4-2. Sometimes, in order to get separation, or to move up a peg, you have to go out and make your own damn luck.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.