There is still a full month left before Selection Sunday on March 17, so plenty is subject to change in college basketball. Nevertheless, the Syracuse Orange and plenty of other teams could tell you that life is full of surprises. More plot twists await, but a look at home-road splits (plus neutral-court outcomes in some cases) reveals lots of eye-popping realities in this sport as February hits the midway point, and the journey toward Bracketville intensifies.
What is the familiar story involving Syracuse? The Orange have often not left the state of New York in the first month of their season. They might play a game in Madison Square Garden and load up on Carrier Dome dates. They would be comfortable in their own back yard but would struggle when they left familiar surroundings.
This season, Syracuse is in comfortable NCAA Tournament position precisely because of its ability to win away from home, which has saved the Orange from some nasty home-court losses.
Syracuse lost to Georgia Tech and Old Dominion, plus Buffalo and Florida State. In other years, this collection of home losses might have put the Orange squarely on the bubble; Jim Boeheim has lived there multiple times in recent seasons. Yet, this season that won’t cost SU. The Orange won at Duke, a massive upset which has substantially reshaped this team’s profile. Syracuse has been a very responsible road team, going 5-1 in opponents’ home buildings. That’s why this is an NCAA team.
Syracuse is hardly the only home-road eye-popper in 2019. Plenty of other examples exist, for reasons good, bad, or just plain confusing.
Syracuse’s old rival, the Georgetown Hoyas, came within one basket of winning in the Carrier Dome this season. Georgetown has played well on the road, going 4-3. If only the Hoyas could be more consistent at home, they might have been an NCAA team. (They still could be, but they’re probably on the negative side of the bubble, neutral at best.)
Georgetown is a modest 10-5 at home, losing this past Saturday to Butler after winning at Providence earlier last week. The Verizon Center is where Georgetown loses stability instead of affirming it. Providence also does well on the road (4-4, including a key win at Texas) but hasn’t locked things down at home, going 9-4. Change that home mark to 11-2, and Providence is likely in the NCAA field. Right now, the Friars have a lot of work to do.
Oklahoma is playing its way out of the NCAA field, but the Sooners aren’t completely dead even at 3-9 in the Big 12. Why? They have four road wins… which is twice as many road wins as Kansas (2) has. How’s that for a brain-buster? Oklahoma has four home-court losses and must find a way to win at home in order to get to the field of 68. Kansas is one of those home games, so OU must take advantage of the Jayhawks’ road woes.
Would you be surprised to know that a not-very-good Stanford team has lost only twice at home? I know I was when I saw that statistic.
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The top six teams in the WCC have not lost more than twice at home this season. Does that mean the league is stronger than what it used to be? Maybe… but then you look at the AAC, and it’s harder to draw a linear conclusion on a conference’s quality and depth based on home-and-road splits.
The AAC could have one or two extra NCAA Tournament teams if its membership could win more on the road. Consider the four-team group of nationally recognized basketball schools in the middle of the standings: Memphis, Wichita State, Tulsa, and Connecticut. All four schools have made a name for themselves in basketball to varying degrees over the past 40 years. All four have made the Elite Eight and multiple Sweet 16s. Three have made the Final Four, two have played for the national title, and one has won multiple national championships.
Not one of these four teams has lost more than three home games. The combined home record for this quartet: 45-9.
Not one of these four teams has won more than one road game: The combined road record for this quartet: 3-23… and that doesn’t even count neutral-court losses. These four teams have combined to lose 10 neutral-court games, meaning they have lost 33 road-or-neutral games. Imagine what they could have done, and where they could be relative to the bubble, had they managed to carry their home-court prowess to other gymnasiums.
What is the meaning of a home or road record in college basketball? It all depends where you look. We will see how these and other home-road splits evolve in the next month, before neutral-site tournament play takes over our lives.
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