Many college basketball teams deal with inclement travel and scheduling quirks, but few are as interesting as the Big Sky.
The conference doesn’t stretch over a lot of states like the Western Athletic Conference, which goes from Illinois to California, or the American Athletic Conference, which runs from Connecticut to Texas. But the trip from Northern Arizona in Flagstaff to Portland State is just under 1,300 miles. On top of that, the league has many smaller outposts like Bozeman, Mont., that are difficult to reach. Perhaps the grind has made these teams very good at being ready to play at any time in any environment.
The Big Sky has the best road cover rate against the spread in college basketball at 58-42-2, with just two teams covering fewer than 55.5% of their games away from home.
Conference teams play a variety of tempos, but an underlying theme is that they do not allow opponents to take many 3s. When it comes to 3-point-shooting rate, which is the percentage of opponents’ shots that come from beyond the arc, three of the top five teams in the nation and seven of the top 29 hail from the Big Sky.
Though Idaho, at 291st in the country, is a big outlier, forcing things inside the arc makes it difficult for a lead to balloon quickly. With home teams often awarded at least three points for home-court advantage, this can make it harder for home teams to cover the spread.
Also, more shots taken inside often leads to more fouls drawn, and free throw shooting is not a forte of Big Sky teams. Not a single team in the conference ranks in the top 50 nationally in free throw shooting percentage. In fact, all but two are 170th or worse in that category. So when a team is trailing and fouling to extend the game, it makes it harder for favorites, which home teams usually are, to cover.