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March 17, 2010
Is it Duke or Cameron Indoor?

by John Gasaway

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The NCAA tournament tips off tomorrow, so how can it be that Duke is still something of a mystery? After all, the Blue Devils are a somewhat gaudy 29-5. They dominated the ACC, won the conference tournament, and secured a one-seed.

Yes, but you see they just don't look particularly scary, do they? Computers can't pick up on stuff like that, and so everyone's looking for reasons to doubt this team beloved of the aforementioned computers.

One doubt that's been raised concerns whether or not Duke can truly be so dominant anywhere besides Cameron Indoor Stadium. We all remember this team losing a game at (insert Nelson laugh) NC State in mid-January. At that point the Blue Devils were 0-3 in true road games. After that they righted the ship, mostly, suffering only that debacle in front of the President at Georgetown and a hard-fought seven-point loss at Maryland.

Still, the suspicion has lingered. If Duke's performance numbers are so great, it has to be because they record blowout wins at home, right?

Let's start with the 126 teams that I tracked during conference play this year for my weekly Tuesday Truths feature. From that group I took the 44 teams that made the NCAA tournament.

Now, here are the teams that do indeed display the biggest change in personality when going from home games to road contests during conference play:

                 Home     Road    Diff.
Oklahoma St.    +0.16    -0.10    -0.26
Minnesota       +0.15    -0.11    -0.26
Clemson         +0.15    -0.09    -0.24
Washington      +0.19    -0.04    -0.23
Xavier          +0.29    +0.06    -0.23
Cal             +0.23    +0.02    -0.21
Maryland        +0.21    +0.01    -0.20
Texas           +0.13    -0.06    -0.19
Duke            +0.23    +0.05    -0.18
Baylor          +0.19    +0.01    -0.18
Ohio St.        +0.22    +0.04    -0.18
Tennessee       +0.13    -0.05    -0.18
Gonzaga         +0.26    +0.08    -0.18

In other words, in home games Oklahoma State outscored the Big 12 by 0.16 points per trip this season. But when the Cowboys played on the road in-conference, they were outscored by 0.10 points per possession. At home OSU was (almost) equivalent to Kansas, on the road they were more like Iowa State.

Duke's on this list as well, meaning they do indeed tend toward the split-personality home-vs.-road thing more than any other one-seed. (See below for the full 44-team list.) Still, the key word here is "tend." The Blue Devils actually aren't too far removed from Joe Average (Tuesday Truths) Tournament Team, which sees a drop in performance equivalent to 0.13 points per trip when they play a road game in-conference. Not to mention Duke's no different in this bipolar respect than teams like Baylor, Ohio State, Tennessee, or Gonzaga. Have you heard anyone saying Baylor's sweet numbers are just because of those incredible crowds at the Ferrell Center? I haven't either. Final point: Duke did better on the road in-conference than a team like Florida State did overall in ACC play, and the Seminoles are a trendy pick to scare Syracuse in the second round if Arinze Onuaku isn't available.

None of which means Mike Krzyzewski's team is a sure thing for the national championship, of course. But the idea that Duke is uniquely reliant on their home venue to produce their glittering stats is a bit of a stretch. Besides, the Blue Devils aren't even all that great at Cameron Indoor. Outscoring opponents by 0.23 points per trip--like that's impressive! If you want real domination, go to the Cintas Center in Cincinnati, where this year Xavier outscored A-10 opponents by a stupefying 0.29 points per possession. The Cameron Crazies apparently need to pick up some pointers from the rabid Musketeer faithful. (Also it probably helps that the team is really good.)

Now let's look at the other extreme. These are teams that are eerily steady. Home, road, they don't care. Their performance is pretty much the same either way:

Michigan St.    +0.07    +0.10    +0.03
New Mexico      +0.11    +0.10    -0.01
Kansas St.      +0.09    +0.08    -0.01
Florida St.     +0.03    +0.02    -0.01
UNLV            +0.16    +0.13    -0.03
Vanderbilt      +0.07    +0.04    -0.03
Syracuse        +0.13    +0.10    -0.03
West Virginia   +0.14    +0.10    -0.04
Richmond        +0.15    +0.10    -0.05

You are reading that correctly. Michigan State was better on the road in Big Ten play than they were at home this year--thanks in no small measure to their schedule. The Spartans got to play Indiana just once, on the road. Meanwhile MSU played Ohio State just once, at home. Not to mention Tom Izzo's team faced Purdue both with Robbie Hummel (in East Lansing, MSU lost) and without him (in West Lafayette, the Spartans won). As strange as it may sound, the wind was at Michigan State's back, relatively speaking, when they were on the road this season.

Still, the home/road splits on some of MSU's offensive stats are pretty eye-popping, even considering the competition. And keep in mind we're talking about a program that's 15-3 on the road in the Big Ten the past two seasons. Maybe Izzo's tournament success relative-to-seed over the course of his career is in part a function of the rest of the field coming back to him every March. When we admire non-Michigan State teams in February, to some extent we're admiring home-floor prowess that will be rendered a moot point come tournament time. Meanwhile Izzo's team is perfecting tournament-applicable away-from-home skills.

Last thing. Full list:

Home vs. road performance
Conference games only
NCAA tournament entrants from the 126-team Tuesday Truths group
Efficiency margin (points per possession - opponent PPP), home vs. road

                 Home     Road    Diff.
Oklahoma St.    +0.16    -0.10    -0.26
Minnesota       +0.15    -0.11    -0.26
Clemson         +0.15    -0.09    -0.24
Washington      +0.19    -0.04    -0.23
Xavier          +0.29    +0.06    -0.23
Cal             +0.23    +0.02    -0.21
Maryland        +0.21    +0.01    -0.20
Texas           +0.13    -0.06    -0.19
Duke            +0.23    +0.05    -0.18
Baylor          +0.19    +0.01    -0.18
Ohio St.        +0.22    +0.04    -0.18
Tennessee       +0.13    -0.05    -0.18
Gonzaga         +0.26    +0.08    -0.18
Georgia Tech    +0.07    -0.09    -0.16
Texas A&M       +0.13    -0.03    -0.16
Pitt            +0.14	 -0.02    -0.16
Wake Forest     +0.07    -0.08    -0.15
Marquette       +0.16    +0.01    -0.15
Temple          +0.23    +0.08    -0.15
Notre Dame      +0.10    -0.04    -0.14
San Diego St.   +0.19    +0.05    -0.14
Louisville      +0.09    -0.02    -0.11
Villanova       +0.14    +0.03    -0.11
Purdue          +0.16    +0.05    -0.11
Florida         +0.08    -0.03    -0.11
Kentucky        +0.19    +0.08    -0.11
N. Iowa         +0.18    +0.07    -0.11
Georgetown      +0.10     0.00    -0.10
Wisconsin       +0.22    +0.12    -0.10
Kansas          +0.22    +0.13    -0.09
Missouri        +0.10    +0.01    -0.09
Houston         +0.07    -0.02    -0.09
BYU             +0.26    +0.17    -0.09
UTEP            +0.18    +0.10    -0.08
Saint Mary's    +0.16    +0.10    -0.06
Richmond        +0.15    +0.10    -0.05
West Virginia   +0.14    +0.10    -0.04
Syracuse        +0.13    +0.10    -0.03
Vanderbilt      +0.07    +0.04    -0.03
UNLV            +0.16    +0.13    -0.03
Florida St.     +0.03    +0.02    -0.01
Kansas St.      +0.09    +0.08    -0.01
New Mexico      +0.11    +0.10    -0.01
Michigan St.    +0.07    +0.10    +0.03

John is the New Mexico of Twitter. Steady, insanely fortunate, and tweeting with equal dexterity from both home and road: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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65 Teams, 65 Thoughts (03/17)

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