Friday, January 13, 2012

Kentucky, UNC have road-game allergies

Thanks to USA Today's research, everyone can let out resounding "boooooooos" directed at the Blue Bloods of college basketball.

In an article released Wednesday, Kentucky was one of 66 teams (19% of the 345 Division I teams) that had yet to win a true road game this season. (Note: Kentucky won at Auburn on Wednesday). Two other teams in the Top 25 - No. 13 Michigan and No. 19 Florida - also have yet to win a road game.

While the Wildcats are considered one of the favorites to reach the Final Four, they're joined by North Carolina in the pathetic win-on-the-road department. The Tar Heels have played three true road games with the lone victory coming against UNC-Asheville.

Teams like Duke and Missouri, with lone road wins at Georgia Tech and Old Dominion, respectively, join the previous two pillars of college hoops in the Top 10.

Surprisingly, in an age where home games bring in more revenue and the risk for playing true road games far outweighs the rewards, there are some teams that haven't been shy about playing in hostile environments.

In the current AP Top 10, Syracuse, Baylor and Indiana all have three true road wins while Michigan State boasts four.

Ironically, Syracuse is being lauded despite not leaving the state of New York until its 11th game of the season. In what's been called the Boeheim Theory by many, including Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, the Orange figure gaining confidence with a gaudy record and easy victories is better than challenging themselves with losses that could be detrimental to the team's growth.

On the other end of the spectrum are Izzo and the Spartans. Izzo has long subscribed to the "we'll play anybody, anywhere, anytime scheduling mentality." Who can argue with the success?

Despite taking lumps in seemingly every nonconference season, the Spartans look like a lock to reach the NCAA Tournament for the 15th straight season and possibly make another deep run. Scheduling is what Izzo credits for his teams' ability to reach six Final Fours in a 13-year period.

This year, out of all the major conference big boys, the Spartans have played and conquered the most rigorous road schedule of all. Michigan State won at Eastern Michigan and Gonzaga in the nonconference before beating Nebraska and Wisconsin in Big Ten play.

With wins at Gonzaga's Kennel and Wisconsin's Kohl Center - two of the toughest places to win in the nation - what games should really scare the Spartans the rest of the season?


Welsh-Ryan Arena and Crisler Center don't sound so ominous now, do they? Those, of course, are Michigan State's next two road venues courtesy of Northwestern and Michigan.

For the Spartans, taking chances on the road has paid big dividends already this season. For other teams like Kentucky and North Carolina, there is a foreboding cloud of uncertainty on whether those teams can handle rowdy environments.

While there aren't true road games in the NCAA Tournament, hostile, road-feeling games are ever present. What if North Carolina or Kentucky, projected No. 1 seeds, end up in the West Bracket and have a Sweet 16 matchup with No. 4/5 seed Arizona in Phoenix? Did those home games against Tennessee State and Radford, respectively, really help the teams prepare for this matchup?

When the games really count in March, time will tell if the road-game aversion proved too costly for some juggernauts and beneficial to others.

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