Click here for previous editions of the Texas Basketball Report.
Andrew and I have talked a lot over the years about how challenging it is to win on the road in the Big 12, and if you've been following the conference closely for any period of time you know that we're not just woofing. I hadn't really paid much attention to other conferences, and wouldn't have professed to be able to tell you whether it's equally daunting to go on the road in, say, the ACC. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, coaches in every conference huff and puff about how much harder life is on the road, and a gambling website called Beyond the Bets got tired of hearing it and decided to crunch the numbers to put the lie to rest.
And that they did... with one exception.
We got it, guys. It’s not easy to win away from home. We don’t need to hear you say it 10,000 times, because we know that, deep down, all you’re really trying to do is pump up your own conference so you can receive a better seed or bid in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s classic "coach-speak," and it gets old.
In (unbiased) college basketball circles, the common thought seems to be that the Big Ten is the most ruthless on road teams. Judging by cumulative ATS stats gathered from the past five seasons, though, that’s not the case. Instead, it’s the Big 12.
And it's not even close.
Again, although I don't follow other conferences closely enough to have had any opinion on home court advantage anywhere else, I'm not the least bit surprised that the data supports the conclusion that it really does mean something in the Big 12. Beyond the Bets reports that since 2006-07 Big 12 home teams are 227-184-8 (.552) against the spread in conference games, far ahead of everyone else, with only the Big Ten (.503) and ACC (.501) cracking the break-even mark over that same time span.
I mentioned in the recap of last night's loss at K-State that Bramlage was one of the two toughest road venues in the Big 12, and Beyond the Bets' numbers back that up, showing the Wildcats as 27-15 against the spread since 2006-07, the best mark in the conference. Baylor's 18-23-1 mark brings up the rear, while Texas owns a 20-22 ledger against the spread at the Erwin Center. I would have thought the 6,000 fans checking their iPhones for football recruiting news would have made more of a difference, but there you have it.
Beyond the Bets didn't look at straight-up records, and while I don't have time to crunch the numbers for every conference, I went back through the conference slate over the past four seasons (counting this year) and since 2008-09 Big 12 home teams have won 68% of conference games, with a 151-70 record. About half of those 70 losses came in games featuring one of the conference's worst teams facing one of the conference's best -- like Baylor's and Kansas's wins over Texas Tech this January -- and if we eliminate those games from the ledger and just look at games featuring two teams who are at least reasonably competitive with one another, the home team's winning percentage jumps up to 80%.
With all that in mind, it's easy to see why if during this brutal six-game stretch Texas is to elevate off the bubble and into a more solid position in the projected NCAA Tournament field, it's likely to happen with two or three wins in its home games against Kansas on Saturday, Iowa State next Wednesday, and Missouri on January 30th.
I noted in a previous edition of the Texas Basketball Report that since 2006-07 the Longhorns are 17-1 at home against KenPom No. 50-100 teams, and that mark doesn't dip much against Big 12 teams ranked No. 1-49, as Texas is also 13-4 against Top 50 teams at the Erwin Center since 2006-07. Consider also the regular season rivalry with Kansas: although the Jayhawks have won at least a share of seven straight Big 12 titles, since 2003-04 Texas and Kansas have split their 8 regular season contests 4-4, with each team winning at home until 2009, when Kansas knocked off Texas in the Erwin Center, and last year, when J`Covan Brown keyed our epic comeback win in Lawrence, breaking KU's 69-game home winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse.
Whatever our record against the spread, in games played in Austin against Top 100 Big 12 teams the Longhorns are 30-5 straight up, which is one reason why JC wasn't crazy when he suggested Saturday's home match up with Kansas might well be more winnable than Wednesday night's road tilt at Kansas State. As well as the Jayhawks are playing right now -- and they were absolutely phenomenal in crushing Baylor in Lawrence on Monday night -- it's hard to feel good about Texas' chances, but while the gap between the two teams will almost assuredly be on full display when the Longhorns visit Allen Fieldhouse in February, there is legitimate reason to feel hopeful about Saturday's game in Austin.
The biggest and most glaring discrepancy between the two teams -- other than "they have Thomas Robinson and we don't" -- is the vast gap in experience. Bill Self is rightly receiving praise for having a terrific year with one of his less talented teams, but this Kansas team is also an exceptionally experienced one. Taking nothing away from the great job Self is doing, this is a roster filled with upperclassmen with experience, which is every bit as important in college basketball as raw talent -- and let's be honest, it's not like Kansas is ever working with a lousy bundle of players.
On the flipside, of course, the Longhorns are pretty much as young and green a team as you can have, and to say we don't have a frontcourt answer for Thomas Robinson is the understatement of the millennium. We do have talent, though, and we have home court, and we're steadily getting better, and if Tyshawn Taylor is not as bad as his harshest critics say, neither is he anyone I'd ever want to bet on in a big road game. The bigger concern may be underrated seven-footer Jeff Withey, who could combine with Robinson to foul out and offensive rebound our frontcourt to death, much as K-State just did.
Hopefully Texas will be as assertive as they would be were they riding sky-high with confidence and heavily favored, because that's the key to getting the most out of your home court advantage. The Big 12 is a brutally physical, competitive conference and more often than not in these tight games the whistles go to the home team. We've been victimized by it dozens of times, but undoubtedly benefited from it many times as well.
Texas lost the game at Kansas State when it stopped attacking after the whistles started going the other way, and for the Longhorns to pull off the upset on Saturday, they'll need to put themselves in position to be the home team whose aggressiveness is rewarded with foul calls by the officials. If they do, well, we've taken down better Kansas teams in Austin before, and it's not crazy to think we could do so again on Saturday.