Men's College Basketball: Why It Is So Hard for Some Top 25 Teams To Win on Road

Charlie WeinmanContributor IIIFebruary 11, 2011

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 31:  Terrence Jennings #23 of the Louisville Cardinals shoots the ball while defended by Terrence Jones #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the game at the KFC Yum! Center on December 31, 2010 in Louisville, Kentucky. Kentucky won 78-63.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

When college basketball teams play at their home court, they feel comfortable. They feel at ease. They feel that they have a special advantage in each and every game.

The top teams in the nation play in front of packed houses each game. They play in front of thousands of their fellow classmates. These wild students go crazy when they see their favorite players dunk, or cheer as loud as they can when they see their school’s sharpshooter hitting threes from beyond the arch. These teams are able to listen to the band play, and fans sing the school's fight song. These aspects make the team feel comfortable; they are at home.

There are 13 teams in the Top 25 who are so dominating when they play in their arena, they can’t be beat. These 13 teams are undefeated at home, which helps toward their success.

Now when a college basketball team plays on the road, it is a completely different story. They are not comfortable—they have a bit of fear. They are not at ease and they are nervous.  There is no advantage, but rather a disadvantage. When playing the top teams in their building, the road team plays in front of a packed house. In this packed house, there is nothing but loud fans wishing them nothing but the worst.

Out of the 13 ranked, undefeated teams when they play at home, four of the teams have losing records on the road. For these teams, it is a tale of two cities. In one city, the four teams are living a dream; winning every single game. However, in the other cities, they are living a nightmare.

The four teams include the Missouri Tigers, who are ranked No. 20 playing the “40 Minutes of Hell” defense under Mike Anderson; the Kentucky Wildcats, who are ranked No. 18 in the nation, under head coach John Calipari; the Wisconsin Badgers, who are ranked No. 14 and are in third place in the tough Big Ten; and finally, a top 10 team makes this not-so-great list—the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are ranked No. 7, and are in second place in the best conference in the nation.

So what makes these four teams play so unbeatably at home, but not able to play the same way on the road? One may think that it’s the atmosphere, where the players can’t take playing in hostile environments. Others may say that these players are college athletes that are old enough to phase out the fans and distractions and be able to focus on winning each game. Whatever the reason may be, let us take a look at the reasons these teams are so unsuccessful playing on the road.

The conference season is a funny thing. Coaches say that in conference play, it’s a gift if you are able to win a road game. They stress that home games are the games that are must-win. The Tigers, Wildcats, Badgers and Irish are not getting the job done on the road. Especially the Tigers, whose lone road win comes against a bad Oregon team.

The 18-5 Tigers are fast and pesky. The program Mike Anderson is running is referred to as “The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball.” At Mizzou Arena, the Tigers shoot 39 percent from three-point land. The percentage is decreased when they travel on the road, shooting only 34 percent from downtown.

The Tigers are not a very big team compared to others in the league. When the Tigers lose, they average to be out-rebounded by close to 10 rebounds. Being a small team forces them to make their shots. At Mizzou arena, the Tigers shoot 47 percent from the field. When the Tigers are away, the field percentage is much lower.

Missouri once held a 32-game win streak when playing in Columbia. Mizzou has lost a total of two games when playing in Columbia in the last three seasons. The Tigers simply need to learn how to win in other arenas, because no tournament games will be played at the Zou.

Kentucky has not lost in Lexington since Mar. 4, 2009. Rupp Arena has been very friendly to John Calipari and the Wildcats. This season, the Wildcats are 17-6. Every single loss has come away from Rupp Arena. They do not shoot well on the road. This season, they are shooting 47 percent from the field in Lexington. On the road, they shoot a low 40 percent. Kentucky is another team that averages fewer rebounds than its opponent when it is on the road.

Bo Ryan’s 14th-ranked Badgers play so much better in Madison. The Badgers are 18-5 this season. When playing at the Kohl Center, this season Wisconsin shoots 46 percent from the field. When the Badgers are on the road, the percentage decreases all the way down to 37 percent. The three-point shooting is the same story. When at home, they shoot 39 percent from downtown. On the road, the percentage shrinks all the way down to them shooting 31 percent from three.

Finally, the No. 7 Fighting Irish are the team that plays the most differently when they are on the road. The Fighting Irish are 20-4 this season. Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish shoot 46 percent from the field in South Bend. On the road, Notre Dame shoots 41 percent from the field.

The Irish’s three-point shooting changes drastically. At the Purcell Pavilion at the Edmund P. Joyce Center, Notre Dame shoots 39 percent from three-point land. On the road, the Irish shoot 25 percent from beyond the arch—a 14 percent drop.

Not being able to win on the road can be attributed to one of many reasons. It could be the hostile environment, the other team feeding off its crowd or the team just being homesick. Whatever the case may be, teams—especially these four—just play better when the logo at center court is their own.