Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 17, 2010

It was Kent’s bad luck to be lucky

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 9:58 am

Oregon would have fired Ernie Kent yesterday even if the Ducks hadn’t made the Elite Eight as recently as 2007, of course. Who knows, maybe Kent would have been let go even sooner without that luminous entry on his resume. But I can’t help thinking that luck plays an outlandishly large yet completely overlooked role in how college basketball and football coaches are perceived, including and especially how those coaches are evaluated by their athletic directors.

The Ducks were extremely fortunate to find themselves just one game away from the Final Four three years ago. I’ll spare you the Courier, but take it from me. In terms of performance in-conference, the Oregon outfit that went 11-7 in the Pac-10 in 2007 is easily the weakest of the last 24 teams to reach the regional finals. Here’s a nifty visual sum-up of the Ducks’ improbable success, courtesy of my favorite website from back then.

The next year Oregon returned Tajuan Porter, Malik Hairston, Maarty Leunen–everyone, really, except Aaron Brooks. With the core of an Elite Eight team returning, big things were expected for 2007-08. They were ranked in the top 15 nationally in the preseason in both major polls and picked to finish third in a very strong Pac-10 in that year’s preseason media balloting. And sure enough, in Pac-10 play in 2008 Kent’s team duplicated their performance from the previous year–outstanding offense and hideous defense–with eerie precision, but the breaks of the game yielded just a 9-9 record that season. The memory of 2007 was still strong enough for the selection committee to overseed the Ducks as a nine, but Porter and company fell in the first round to Mississippi State, 76-69. Unfulfilled expectations! Must be bad coaching!

Oregon hasn’t glimpsed the NCAA tournament since that loss to the Bulldogs, going 9-27 in the Pac-10 over the past two seasons. A 9-27 record is a 9-27 record, but the pinnacle preceding that downfall, a run to the Elite Eight, should have been regarded and celebrated in Eugene as a fortuitous gift from unusually benevolent hoops gods, not as a true assessment of where this program stood just 36 short months ago.

Reality-based information is on the march, however, and soon ADs will know this kind of stuff when they sit down for those dreaded “year-end evaluations” with their coaches. It wouldn’t have changed Kent’s fate yesterday, but people making decisions based on reality is a good thing.   

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