Here’s How the Best Teams in College Basketball Are Performing on the Road

In just over a month, the 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket will be revealed on Selection Sunday, and we already have a sense of what the top four seeds in each region might look like thanks to the third annual Bracket Preview Show, where the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee announced the top 16 seeds.

As we wrote prior to Saturday’s bracket preview, roughly 44 percent of the teams that appeared in the top-16 seed reveal in the last two seasons ultimately earned the same exact seed on Selection Sunday.

More than 80 percent earned a seed within one seed line of their projected seed from the bracket preview.

What will decide which teams earn No. 1 seeds, which schools improve upon their projected seed and which teams could potentially fall out of a projected top-four seed?

A combination of road wins and conference tournament success.

Most of the teams featured in the top-16 seed reveal will usually, if not always, win at home this season so road wins can be the distinguishing factor between them.

[RELATED: Stadium’s Latest NCAA Tournament Projections (Feb. 11)]

Last year’s No. 1 seeds combined for a 35-9 record on the road and the projected No. 1 seeds from Saturday’s reveal are 22-2 on the road through Sunday.

Quadrant 1 wins – the most valuable of the four quadrants – are more available on the road (against opponents that rank in the top 75 of the NET rankings) than at home (against opponents that rank in the top 30), so road wins frequently fall under Quadrant 1 and they often separate regular season conference champions in the standings from other contenders.

It’s not a coincidence that the four projected No. 1 seeds from the Bracket Preview Show – Duke, Tennessee, Virginia and Gonzaga – have the four best efficiency margins in road games this season among the top 16 seeds.

Here’s a breakdown of each of the top 16 teams’ raw offensive and defensive efficiency on the road this season, as well as their overall efficiency margins on the road.

The efficiency numbers below were calculated using data from kenpom.com and are calculated on a points-per-possession (PPP) basis. Efficiency margin is offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency.

Gonzaga leads the way, scoring 1.31 points per possession on the road this season while outscoring opponents by almost a third of a point per possession.

Team Road Offensive Efficiency (PPP) Road Defensive Efficiency (PPP) Road Efficiency Margin Road Record Road Games Remaining
Gonzaga 1.311 1.028 +0.283 5-1 4
Virginia 1.165 0.947 +0.218 6-1 4
Duke 1.209 1.000 +0.209 5-0 4
Tennessee 1.259 1.051 +0.208 6-0 4
North Carolina 1.130 0.933 +0.197 7-1 4
Kentucky 1.116 0.938 +0.178 6-1 3
Louisville 1.089 0.945 +0.144 5-3 3
Houston 1.078 0.946 +0.132 6-1 4
Nevada 1.136 1.031 +0.105 7-1 4
Michigan 1.006 0.902 +0.104 5-2 4
Michigan State 1.087 1.020 +0.067 6-3 3
Wisconsin 1.029 0.972 +0.057 6-4 3
Iowa State 1.095 1.087 +0.008 4-3 4
Marquette 1.115 1.149 -0.034 4-2 4
Purdue 1.088 1.124 -0.036 3-4 5
Kansas 0.957 1.043 -0.086 1-6 4

 

Three of the 16 teams from the Bracket Preview Show have a negative efficiency margin, meaning their opponents – collectively – have outscored them on a per-possession basis in road games.

Kansas’ -0.08 road efficiency margin, which is a result of – or has at least been exacerbated by – the personnel losses of Udoka Azubuike, Lagerald Vick and Marcus Garrett, is a concern as the Jayhawks try to cut into Kansas State’s 1.5-game lead in the Big 12 and maintain their streak of earning a top-four seed that dates back to the 2001 NCAA Tournament.

Meanwhile, Purdue has reason to be optimistic despite its -0.03 road efficiency margin. The Boilermakers are undefeated since freshman forward Trevion Williams moved into the starting lineup on Jan. 11. He played just seven minutes combined in losses at Florida State and Michigan, and he didn’t play in a loss at Texas.

The Boilermakers should also benefit from a schedule that has gotten more manageable with time. Their final five road games are against Maryland, Indiana, Nebraska, Minnesota and Northwestern (a combined record of 72-47 through Sunday) after playing Florida State, Michigan, Texas, Michigan State and Wisconsin (a combined record of 90-29) in their first five road games.

When you speculate about the movement in projected seeds between Saturday’s Bracket Preview Show and Selection Sunday, keep a close eye on how the best teams in college basketball fare on the road.

The chart above is likely a good indicator of which of college basketball’s top teams are best equipped to win in raucous road environments.

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