True road-court advantage in college basketball

By Steve Makinen  (Point Spread Weekly) 

February 2, 2020 06:27 PM

In last week’s issue of “Point Spread Weekly,” I introduced the concept of True Home-Court Advantage in college basketball. The follow-up piece to that involves True Road-Court Advantage. I indicated last week that home- and road-court points are typically assigned two ways — by standard assignments or team-specific edges. I prefer the latter, as I believe that specific performance trends warrant treating each team individually, both from theoretical and actual numbers standpoints. After all, some environments naturally are tougher than others across the basketball landscape. I’ll now share with you the process by which I determine road-court points in college basketball. 

The way I see it, we almost have to do the team-specific method as bettors because many reasons help explain why certain teams have more definitive home- or road-court performances than others. Factors contributing to home-court advantage include crowd capacity/enthusiasm, the quality of the home team, the distractions available to visiting teams and even the venue size. As far as road-court performance is concerned, I would list style of play, leadership and experience as key contributing factors in how teams play on the road. 

To determine which teams hold the best True Road-Court Advantage in college hoops, I have taken the teams’ game logs in neutral or road games since the start of the 2017-18 season, or essentially the last 2 1/2 seasons, using only lined games. I compared their average power rating in those games to their opponents’ average power rating, using my actual logged numbers for every game. This margin would be considered the amount they should have won or lost by when meeting on a neutral court, or the expected margin. I then compared this amount to the actual point differential the team accumulated in those games. Obviously, the teams that had a greater actual differential than expected differential played the best on the road. For college teams with at least 10 road games in that span, the margins went as high as + 1.3 for Long Island to -10.2 for Kennesaw State and Houston Baptist. 

Since the average home-court advantage in college basketball is about 3.5 points, assigning a road rating of + 1.3 for Long Island would essentially be rewarding them almost 5 points for playing on the road. Thus we can’t do that. However, they are better than other teams on the road, so bettors should credit them for that. At the same time, as much as you’d probably be happy with penalizing Houston Baptist every time it plays on the road, going over 10 points on a deduction would be erroneous. 

From last week, I was able to calculate that the actual number for home-court advantage is 3.5 points in a nonconference game and 3.3 points in a conference clash. For the purposes of my own ratings, I typically grant between + 0.75 and -0.75 points on a road rating, meaning the road impact can show a 1.5-point variance depending on the team.

I don’t specifically assign the road-court ratings exactly with the order of the True Road-Court Rating, as I also give strong consideration to the straight-up and ATS records as well as the perceived difficulty of playing at a particular venue. Otherwise, single games that a team won or lost big can falsely affect the overall ratings. 

Let’s take a quick look at highlights of the road study. After that, you will see a chart for each conference showing the True Road-Court Performance figures I have uncovered as well as their straight-up and against-the-spread records. Put this together with last week’s home-court analysis and you should have a nice advantage the rest of this season.

College Road-Court Performance Study Highlights

— The team with the highest True Road-Court Performance rating having played at least 10 lined games over the last 2 1/2 seasons is Long Island at + 1.3. LIU would actually have been expected to lose its 21 road games in that span by 1.2 PPG if played on neutral courts yet is winning them by 0.1 PPG, producing a road “advantage” of 1.3 points.

— The most prominent road teams that have each won 47 road/neutral games outright over the last 2 1/2 seasons are Villanova (47-9) and Gonzaga (47-6). Kansas (41-11) is the only other team with more than 40. Of those, the Zags boast the best true road rating at -0.8, which is 2.7 points better than the average team. To put this in perspective to how I view it, I assign Gonzaga + 0.4 points when it plays on the road. In other words, I deduct 0.4 points from the opponent’s home-court edge.

— St. Francis (Pa.) and Stony Brook share 13-5 ATS road records in the study, and at 72% ATS they own the nation’s best mark in that regard among teams that played more than 10 games. Winthrop at 12-5 ATS is the only other team better than 70%, while Jacksonville State, at 33-19 ATS, owns the most point-spread wins.

— Abilene Christian is a less prominent team that you might want to keep an eye on, boasting a record of 6-1 ATS in road/neutral lined games since 2017, to go along with a True Road-Court Rating of + 1.1.

College Road-Court Performance Study Lowlights

— The teams with the worst True Road-Court Performance ratings having played at least 10 lined games over the last 2 1/2 seasons are Kennesaw State and Houston Baptist at -10.2. If you consider that the average home-court advantage in college hoops is 3.5 points per game, a rating of -10.2 means those teams are spotting teams almost seven points per game when on the road. Their combined won-lost marks are 1-32 SU and 9-20-4 ATS.

— Along with Houston Baptist, which is 0-17 on the road in this study, Incarnate Word (0-10) and Texas-Rio Grande Valley (0-13) are the other teams that have not won a game away from home. Columbia (3-30) and Southern Miss (5-40) aren’t much better. Oregon State (7-33) is the worst power-conference road team.

— Purdue Fort Wayne’s 11-31 ATS record on the road during that span is the nation’s worst among teams that played more than 20 games. Charlotte at 10-25 ATS and Utah State at 12-30 ATS are the only other teams worse than 30%.

— Road ineptitude isn’t reserved for the state of Texas. Besides Houston Baptist, Texas-Rio Grande Valley and Incarnate Word, Binghamton is another less prominent team you might want to start fading on the road in Extra Games, with a record of 2-11 SU and 3-9 ATS in road lined games since 2017.

Check out accompanying charts in the most recent Point Spread Weekly.


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