Don’t judge a team only by its road wins and losses

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Kentucky can’t win on the road. Neither can Washington. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad road teams.

But don’t just take my word for it. It’s all part of an excellent essay by Ken Pomeroy in which he tried – and succeeds – to debunk a road myth.

It can be summed up thusly:

Write off Washington and Kentucky if you must. But don’t do it because they can’t win on the road. You’re arbitrarily ignoring a significant part of their schedule, which in this case happens to be the part each team has played the best in (even when accounting for home-court advantage). If the basketball committee’s job is to select the best teams, I think they should have some empirical evidence that indicates that road games deserve more weight in identifying the best teams. I’ll keep an open mind, but until such evidence is presented, I remain skeptical.

So ignore W-L records. Consider this bit of info from Pomeroy’s column instead: Last season there was correlation of 0.39 between D-I teams’ home and road winning percentage. There was a correlation of 0.54 between their home and road scoring margin. This shouldn’t be surprising since outcome is less reliable than performance.

Not enough? Need more? Fine.

Take the ‘Cats. They handled No. 13 Florida on Saturday and improved to 20-8 overall and 8-6 in SEC play. All six of those conference losses? On the road.

It’s caused much consternation among Big Blue Nation, yet it overlooks the fact that Kentucky’s still really good. It’s just not quite good enough on the road. Those losses were by a combined nine points. Is that bad? Or just unlucky?

And Washington, oh Washington. Lorenzo Romar’s squad is dominant at home, outscoring foes by more than 20 points a game. Yet they’re seemingly average on the road in Pac-10 play, going just 4-5…except they’ve outscored opponents on the road by 26 points. Ohio State’s only outscored road opponents by 29 points and is 6-2.

Curse you stats for being so informative and flying in the face of conventional wisdom!

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