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Road Performance and NCAA Tournament Seeding

Ken Pomeroy has another great blog post on road performance entitled “Why I Won’t Give Up on Washington (or Kentucky)“–I think he should have also added Missouri to that group as well. In it, he talks about some recent examples of teams that were not nearly as good on the road as they were at home in recent seasons, but did not struggle once post season play began.

Most prominently, Duke last year was 5-3 on the road in conference while going 8-0 at home. In fact, when I checked it, Duke, Baylor and Maryland were tied for the largest conference home/road win percentage split among the top 16 teams in last year’s tournament–two of them met in the Elite 8. At the other extreme, Kansas State, Syracuse, New Mexico, Purdue and Vanderbilt all won at least as many conference games on the road in the regular season as they did at home. These road warriors produced one Elite 8 team.

Of course, if Pomeroy wanted to have another reason not to give up on Washington, he could have just looked to last year. I looked at all the matchups between 6/11, 7/10, and 8/9 games in the first round. The largest discrepancy between road warrior and roadkill was in the matchup between #6 Marquette and #11 Washington. Marquette was an impressive 9-6 in road/neutral games against Top 100 teams for the year. Washington was a measly 1-6 against Top 100 teams. Washington won, and then beat another team with very little home/road split in 2010, #3 New Mexico, to reach the Sweet 16. That’s right, just one year ago, the Huskies had more quality wins away from home in the tournament as they did all regular season.

You often hear “there are no home games in the tournament”, which is why people tend to focus on road performance. It’s also true, though, that there are no road games in the tournament (at least not at the opponent’s traditional home venue, you may have to play closer to an opponent’s home area). Besides a large dose of luck and randomness, referees can play a role. If you are a team that plays pressure defense and traps, you want the whistles to be a little more lax on hand checks. They may be at home moreso than on the road. But the neutral site isn’t necessarily going to be more like one than the other.

I’ll close with quoting Pomeroy’s close, because I agree with it whole-heartedly: “If the basketball committee’s job is to select the best teams, I think they should have some empirical evidence that indicates that road games deserve more weight in identifying the best teams. I’ll keep an open mind, but until such evidence is presented, I remain skeptical.”

[photo via Getty]

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