Friday, February 1, 2008

Pac-10 Hospitality

With the midpoint of the college basketball conference season upon us this week and next, the jostling for conference position and potential at-large bids to the NCAA tournament is well underway, but remains shrouded in the fog of parity among teams. The Big East, for instance, most closely resembles the Indy 500 under a yellow flag.

One distinction that always seems to enter the discussion around Selection Sunday is how teams have performed on the road. But the supposed test of a team's ability to perform in a hostile environment has a qualitative aspect as well. Let's examine the cumulative home records for each of the top 9 RPI conferences (through January 31):

W L Pct Diff from Avg RPI
SEC 24 11 68.6% 5.3% 5
MVC 34 16 68.0% 4.7% 8
B East 44 21 67.7% 4.4% 3
Big 12 22 11 66.7% 3.4% 4
ACC 23 14 62.2% -1.1% 1
Big 10 27 17 61.4% -1.9% 6
A10 25 16 61.0% -2.3% 7
MWC 17 11 60.7% -2.6% 9
P10 20 20 50.0% -13.3% 2

Total 236 137 63.3%

8 of the 9 conferences have home winning percentages between 60-70%, while the Pac-10 is a huge outlier at 50%. So, even with the advantage of a Thursday/Saturday schedule and significant travel distance, home teams only break even on the Left Coast. If that statistical pattern continues, it will mean that a "bubble" Pac-10 team (say, with a 10-8 conference record) will have about one more "good" win than their competitors in other high-RPI leagues for NCAA at-large spots.

Will it matter, and just as important, should it matter? I can see an scenario in which there are comparisions between Syracuse (1-3 road record in Big East) or Villanova (1-4 road record in Big East) and USC (3-2 road record with wins at UCLA and Oregon). I'm not sure, however, that committee members will correctly weight the abundance of road wins available in the Pac-10 this year for all teams.

The good news is that research shows that road performance is not one of the top six "highly important" determinants of at-large selection. Don't think for one minute though that Dan Guerrero won't have the road argument lined up for his fellow Pac-10 institutions when the selection committee goes behind closed doors.

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