The Importance of Road Records When Betting College Basketball in March
As we charge toward March in college basketball, a major factor in evaluating teams is their ability (or inability) to win games on the road (or in neutral settings). When I take the average of all 353 teams I get a mold that teams should fit in. The average team is 7-4 at home and 5-8 on the road. I completely skip the neutral win/loss column and just call every game that isn’t at home a road game. Non-home would be a better way to say it but that’s clunky. Obviously the extra road games are because I am using all neutral games as road. Let’s evaluate the potential for teams to cover the spread starting with the stronger conferences that will likely get multiple bids in the NCAA Tournament.
Connecticut really stands out in this group. Danny Hurley’s squad is 12-3 at home and a miserable 1-10 on the road. Combine that with the uncertain health of Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert and you have a road team that is a clear fade going forward. You may see them as short road dogs or even favored away from home at some point.
Houston is a contender at 25-1 and they’ve proven they can win away from home. They bring an 8-1 road record with them as they head into March. The list of teams they have defeated on the road isn’t very impressive (best are SMU, Oklahoma State and BYU). However they have one key component that helps in March.
The top eight players in the rotation combine for 19 seasons for Kelvin Sampson at Houston. ONLY two sophomores have played a season each at UMass. That’s it. The three guards have played 9 seasons and Corey Davis was a JuCo transfer last year. Redshirt freshman Cedric Alley benefited tremendously from his first season with Sampson as he has always been excellent at developing players. This Cougar team isn’t the Phi Slamma Jamma of the past. They are defined as a tough, physical, defensive basketball team that is SECOND in the nation at KenPom 2-pt. FG% defense. They don’t allow easy buckets and force you to make threes to win. Houston will be a handful in the NCAA tournament for some high-profile college basketball teams.
Let’s focus on the bottom-feeders of the ACC. This group includes Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. The combined road record of these teams is 13-45. While that’s obviously bad, the question is: what do we do with that information? A good example is what took place Sunday when Miami visited BC. Miami is 2-8 on the road heading into Massachusetts to take on a BC team with a 9-6 home record. The oddsmakers made a real mistake on this one as the Eagles were a generous +3 at home and cruised to an easy 74-67 straight up win. These situations happen all the time and bettors who are paying attention are rewarded. Alarms should go off any time a bottom dwelling ACC team is a road favorite against another bottom dweller.
The bottom of the Big Ten is very similar to the ACC. The combined road records of Indiana, Illinois, Penn State, Northwestern and Nebraska is a combined 15-44. Similarly to the ACC, bettors would do well to take notice if any of these teams are road favorites over another, or even as short-priced dogs with other factors being considered. As I have previously stated, I was slow to warm up to this Purdue team. I am still slightly skeptical for one concerning reason. While Purdue is a stellar 13-0 at home, their 5-7 road record is not the stuff of teams who are built to go deep into the NCAA tournament or even the Big Ten conference tournament. Matt Painter is one of the best in the business in getting his teams to play together in an unselfish way. Yet, when we dive deeper into their schedule their road losses (if we throw out KenPom #79 Notre Dame) were all against teams no worse than #27 in KenPom’s ratings. Not so bad, but when you’re advancing through March you’re facing the best of the best and simply put, this Purdue team hasn’t shown the ability to win those games away from home.
Big 12 and Big East
Combining these two conferences makes sense because nothing really stands out to take advantage of. Not one of the twenty teams has a losing home record while only 8 have a winning road record. This really doesn’t setup for too many home/road dichotomy mistakes by the linesmakers. Moving on.
Twelve of the 14 SEC teams have a winning home record except Vandy (8-8) . The top three teams include Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee, who have separated themselves. They also combine for a 24-8 road record. These teams are dangerous on the road and should be taken seriously as Final Four contenders.
Vanderbilt stands out for me. Bryce Drew’s first two seasons provided a 22-12 home record as good teams can struggle at times in a strange environment with the benches on the baseline rather than the sideline. Not this year. This team is 8-8 in a fortunate home environment. Losing a possible lottery pick has really worn on this team as they really don’t have a true point guard with Saban Lee responsible for imitating one. Where Vandy has really struggled is on the road with a 1-8 record. Vandy could be an auto-fade from this point as all evidence points to the Commodores being the worst team in the league.
Washington is the only real redeeming quality for the PAC-12. The Huskies road record is 8-5, they are loaded with experience, and play a zone defense that can confuse teams in March. No one is expecting Washington to make a run to the Final Four, but they are built to grind out games and keep things close to the vest. Head coach Mike Hopkins has patterned his teams after his mentor, Jim Boeheim. Washington has all the intangibles of a team that can cover spreads in March.