NCAA Tournament Narratives: Road Wins

Posted by on March 19, 2014

The following is part of a series of NCAA tournament posts. You can find the intro to the series here.

Narrative: Road results are more important than home results.

If you go back to the intro post, I mentioned how an NCAA tournament game isn’t completely equal to a regular season game. Sometimes I think this is overstated: Basketball is basketball. If your group of freshman have been really good during the regular season, they will probably be really good in the tournament.
An undeniable difference between regular season and tournament play is location. Tournament games are (usually) played on neutral floors. It’s hard to keep track of these things, but I think the running narrative here is that road performance should be more predictive of tournament success. Winning on the road takes more toughness than winning at home, or so we think.
Obviously it’s easier to win at home, but we have metrics that can account for this advantage. My question is: After we account for home-court advantage, is there still something special about winning on the road? Take a look at the graphs below:
Michigan State Graph
Road wins were ever so slightly more correlated to NCAA tournament wins with an r-value of .46. However, I think there might be more to road wins than the graphs indicate. The teams in this sample played an average of 17 home games in their regular season, but just 11 road games. Despite the smaller sample size, the r-value for road performance was still (albeit very slightly) larger.
Basically, I think the numbers support the idea that road performance is more predictive or tournament success. However, the smaller sample size of road games essentially negates the added predictability.

Team: Syracuse

Syracuse lost two games all season to non-NCAA tournament teams (BC and Georgia Tech). Both of those games were actually at the Carrier Dome. In fact, the Orange rank just 38th in home efficiency differential among NCAA tournament teams. On the other hand, Syracuse ranks 2nd overall in road efficiency differential.
The graphs above don’t quite get at Syracuse’s situation. They simply look at road and home performance independent of each other. However, can we learn anything by looking at teams with strong road performances relative to home performances?
Take a look at NCAA title contenders (five seed or better) over the last 10 years with similar situations to Syracuse:
Syracuse Table
This is quite an accomplished list of teams. Based on seeding alone, these 10 team would have been expected to win 23 NCAA tournament games. However, the group of “road warriors” actually combined to win 30 games.
It’s only 10 teams, but there might just be something to road performance translating to tournament play. Not only should Syracuse fans be optimistic, but I included Michigan State in the table because they are in a similar situation. (As if the Spartans needed another reason for everyone to jump on their March bandwagon.)
Syracuse picked a bad time of the season to forget how to put the ball in the basket. Still, their road performance this year suggests the Orange are still very dangerous.

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