Marching to Vegas: Hitting the RoadPosted by Adam Butler on January 10th, 2014
Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.
The following are the number of road, in-conference losses for each of the previous five Pac-12 champions: 3, 3, 4, 4, and 3. The first thing to note is that across those five seasons there have been four different champions with Washington collecting a pair of ‘ships in that stretch. What’s more is that those seem like some pretty heavy loss numbers considering this is stemming from just half of a champion’s schedule. Now I know we’re coming out of the most miserable stretch of Pac-12 hoops since before the Internet, but still, I’m not impressed. I’m also further intrigued. Earlier this week I came across a new KenPom blog post in which he explores the fairness of evaluating a quality win as we see it today. He basically cites that our evaluation method is pretty rigid and misguided to use RPI (a point he regularly exhausts). He uses Oregon’s loss at Colorado as the common thread. I think this quote best summarizes the piece: “The problem is that road win over #51 is significantly more difficult than a home win over #50. We can all agree on that, right?” Yes we can, Ken. Which is why I was so surprised to see a relatively harsh reaction to Oregon’s performance that night. What’s more, their entire weekend began to serve as a window into perhaps exactly who these Ducks are. Not so fast, my friends.
Those very Buffaloes, which we watched beat Oregon, were taken to the brink – overtime, in fact – this week, by a Washington State team that wasn’t even seven days removed from a seven-point half. DaVonte Lacy still wasn’t playing and the game wasn’t even an actual home game in that it was played in Spokane. The concept alone of not playing at the Coors Events Center gave the Cougars a fighting chance against the Buffaloes. The same, strangely, held true for Craig Robinson’s Beavers as they held off an I-don’t-know-what-kind-of-effort-you’ll-ever-get-from-Stanford at home. If you didn’t follow, Oregon State beat Stanford in Corvallis and Arizona State handed USC its first home loss. But the biggest tale from the road last night has got to be Cal’s visit to Oregon. A home loss, as we’ve discussed, is inauspicious, and looking further into things, the box score demonstrates that the Ducks have yielded a lot of points in consecutive games. Even though we’ve mentioned that a single game can’t define a team’s fortunes, back-to-back outcomes might begin to do just that. However, this is a conversation about the trials and tribulations of a traveling squad, and not specifically the Oregon Ducks.
And if you just crunch it all, look at the road across all of competition, college basketball is the toughest road! Yes, this according to the Wall Street Journal article linked back there states that CBB offers no forgiveness to travelers. A further exploration of the matter shows a great graphic of the study. And so getting back to Pomeroy’s point of evaluation, the crux of conference play is to just win. Because when it comes to the road, the only thing worth evaluating might be the final score. Which of course is not to excuse the transgressions of, say, Arizona State last week. Or UCLA, WSU, USC, and Oregon. Those were the home losses thus far this week where, based upon what’s previously been said, it should be easier to accomplish. Sometimes it isn’t but that’s college basketball; the toughest place to win is on the road. Which suggests bravo! to those road warriors and a heightened perception of them. I, for one, certainly hold Cal in higher esteem with two road wins over Stanford and Oregon. Which is my evaluation of California. I judge the Ducks for their home loss, but again, I’m going to further value Cal’s win above Oregon’s loss. At least at this point in the season. And while I scour plenty of stats and watch plenty of games and have plenty of biases, I’m not always positive on how to precisely evaluate a team. My gut is often wrong, of course, but there’s a reason, as a fan, I get most excited about watching my team win in someone else’s arena; or value a given team winning away. I’ve stood in stands reveling in the glory of a road win. Why is that so much sweeter? Why is Marshall Henderson? It’s because there is a show of strength; an unexpected victory in the face of expected defeat. Winning on the road is even sweeter than the icing on the cake.
To date, we haven’t always seen the expected outcomes, but we’ve seen a product that’s entertained. From where we’re sitting (what up, fans?) it’s been a delightful one-and-a-half weeks. But the team that limits their losses in front of their friends, that’s the team that will be standing at the end.