Good coaches are lucky, too

Examining the influence that luck has throughout college basketball

Updated: October 1, 2013, 12:38 PM ET
By John Gasaway | ESPN Insider

Leonard HamiltonStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesLeonard Hamilton has turned around the Florida State program, but he's caught a few breaks.

John Wooden was the greatest college basketball coach of all time, and in the 1975 NCAA tournament, he was very lucky. That season, UCLA had to go to overtime just to win its opening-round game against Michigan. Then in the Sweet 16, Wooden's men defeated Montana by a mere three points. And a national semifinal against Louisville also went into OT before UCLA emerged victorious. The Bruins won Wooden his 10th national championship in his final season, but that last title didn't come easily.

Brad Stevens is no John Wooden, but he's a great coach, and in the 2011 NCAA tournament, he was very lucky. Butler won its opening-round game against Old Dominion courtesy of a Matt Howard buzzer-beater. Then the Bulldogs beat Pittsburgh 71-70 after the Panthers' Nasir Robinson fouled Howard 92 feet away from the Butler basket with the score tied and 1.4 seconds remaining. After the game, Howard offered this description of what had just taken place: "You're thinking, 'No way. There's no way. There's no way this is happening.'"

John Groce is no Brad Stevens, but he's a good coach, and in the 2012 postseason, he was very lucky. His Ohio team entered the MAC tournament as the No. 3 seed, and the Bobcats secured the league's automatic bid with victories by eight, three and one points. Then in NCAA tournament wins against Michigan and South Florida, an Ohio team that had ranked last in MAC conference play in 3-point accuracy made 44 percent of its tries from beyond the arc.

A millionaire can win the lottery, the tallest kid in the class can have a growth spurt and a good (Groce), great (Stevens) or even iconic coach (Wooden) can occasionally win with luck. There's no contradiction there. Wooden's a legend, Stevens is now in the NBA and at Illinois, Groce has signed what is currently ranked as the No. 7 recruiting class nationally for 2014. It's not a question of whether you'd rather be lucky than good, because in college basketball, you can be both.