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Pac-12 Basketball: Impact of Travel, Previous Road Performance on NCAA Tournament

At least one Pac-12 team will be making a cross country trip in March. How much of an impact will it have on tournament success?

NCAA Womens Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament Championship-UCLA vs Oregon State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Just over a week from now, the 2017 NCAA Tournament brackets will be released to the public. At least one Pac-12 team will have to make a sizable trek across the country if it hopes to end up in Glendale, Arizona for the Final Four.

UCLA, Arizona and Oregon all have legitimate chances of reaching the third weekend of the dance, but it will require some frequent flyer miles on the way. The committee will place each of the three teams as close to home as possible for the first two rounds, which could place these three schools in Salt Lake City, Sacramento or Tulsa, among others.

Because the Pac-12 is so top-heavy this season, and each of the three aforementioned schools should receive top 4 seeds, the teams must be placed in three different regions. The regional locations this year are San Jose (West), Kansas City (Midwest), Memphis (South) and New York (East). Many bracketologists have recently placed the third-ranked Pac-12 team in the East region, which would mean traveling all the way across the country for the second weekend.

Because travel and game location are such important aspects to college basketball, and even more so in the NCAA Tournament, I wanted to explore a bit into what we may expect from this year’s teams, and see how much these cross-country trips have affected Pac-12 teams in the past.

First off, I was curious if road records had an impact on the tournament results for Pac-12 teams, dating back to 2012. Feel free to mess around with the table below, which shows the road and neutral record of each Pac-12 team that made the postseason the past five seasons, along with their projected NCAA wins based on seed and their actual NCAA wins.

Road Records from Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Teams, 2012-16

Team Road/Neutral Record Road/Neutral Win % Projected NCAA Wins NCAA Wins NCAA Wins vs. Projected
Team Road/Neutral Record Road/Neutral Win % Projected NCAA Wins NCAA Wins NCAA Wins vs. Projected
15-16 Oregon 10-6 63% 3.35 3 -0.35
15-16 Utah 10-7 58% 1.8 1 -0.8
15-16 Arizona 8-7 53% 1.13 0 -1.13
15-16 Cal 5-10 33% 1.55 0 -1.55
15-16 Colorado 6-10 38% 0.73 0 -0.73
15-16 USC 5-10 33% 0.73 0 -0.73
15-16 Oregon St 7-9 44% 0.89 0 -0.89
14-15 Arizona 14-3 82% 2.4 3 0.6
14-15 Utah 8-7 53% 1.11 2 0.89
14-15 Oregon 8-7 53% 0.73 1 0.27
14-15 UCLA 4-12 25% 0.58 2 1.42
13-14 Arizona 12-4 75% 3.35 3 -0.35
13-14 UCLA 10-6 63% 1.55 2 0.45
13-14 Oregon 8-6 57% 0.89 1 0.11
13-14 Stanford 9-8 53% 0.64 2 1.36
13-14 Arizona St 5-10 33% 0.64 0 -0.64
13-14 Colorado 7-9 44% 0.73 0 -0.73
12-13 UCLA 10-6 63% 1.13 0 -1.13
12-13 Arizona 11-5 69% 1.13 2 0.87
12-13 Oregon 9-6 60% 0.52 2 1.48
12-13 Cal 9-6 60% 0.52 1 0.48
12-13 Colorado 9-8 53% 0.64 0 -0.64
11-12 Cal 7-8 47% 0.52 0 -0.52
11-12 Colorado 9-9 50% 0.58 1 0.42

At one point, there seemed to be a somewhat decent correlation between a strong road/neutral record and tournament result, but UCLA’s 4-12 road/neutral record paired with two victories as an #11 seed ended that.

For the visual learners, here is the table with road/neutral win percentages and NCAA wins vs. the projected amount.

There is a soft but evident correlation (minus UCLA’s run in 2015) in the graph, but still not as significant as I first expected. I would not buy as much stock in road records as announcers and analysts will say, as the better team almost always win, regardless of previous road and neutral record. Even so, Oregon, UCLA and Arizona have all shared fairly strong records away from their home arenas this season, so there should very little to no impact from this year’s teams in this sense.

How about playing a certain amount of miles away from home? This study had a bit more revealing information. I took each NCAA Tournament game involving a Pac-12 team dating back to 2010, recording the number of miles away from its home arena and the overall record in that location.

The smallest trip taken by any Pac-12 team since 2010 was California’s 46-mile stroll to the HP Pavilion in San Jose, where the Golden Bears topped UNLV 64-61 and was then ousted in the round of 32 against Syracuse on March 23, 2013.

Conversely, the largest journey made by a Pac-12 squad was when Washington played its first weekend in Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte. The Huskies knocked off Georgia and nearly upset North Carolina in the round of 32, a hefty 2,697 miles away from Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle.

I chose to bunch the results into sections to get an idea of how the teams performed when playing a certain distance away from home. Here are the results:

P12 Tournament Teams Away From Home Arena, 2010-16

Miles Away From Home Arena Record Win %
Miles Away From Home Arena Record Win %
Under 250 3-1 75%
251-500 8-5 62%
501-1000 10-5 67%
1001-1500 4-2 67%
1501-2000 1-6 14%
2001-2500 5-5 50%
2501+ 3-6 33%

This study seems far more insightful than the first. Under 1,500 miles away from home, Pac-12 teams have amassed a sturdy 25-12 record, a 68% win percentage. However, over 1,500 miles is where Pac-12 teams have run into some trouble. Pac-12 squads have just a 9-17 record when traveling more than 1,500 miles from its home arena, a 35% win percentage, 33% lower than when playing under 1,500 miles from home arena.

Could this spell trouble for this year’s tournament teams? It’s very highly unlikely that any Pac-12 team will have to travel more than 1,500 miles for its first weekend games, but the regionals could get hairy. At least one Pac-12 team will appear in the East or South region in the bracket, which is the following amount of miles from these respective team’s arenas:

  • Arizona: 1,200 miles from Kansas City (Midwest), 1,402 miles from Memphis (South), 2,400 miles from New York (East)
  • Oregon: 1,809 miles from Kansas City (Midwest), 2,260 miles from Memphis (South), 2,909 miles from New York (East)
  • UCLA: 1,635 miles from Kansas City (Midwest), 1,809 miles from Memphis (South), 2,807 miles from New York (East)

As it stands right now, most bracketologists have Gonzaga placed as the #1 seed in the West region, with a Pac-12 team (mostly Oregon) slotted as the #2 in the same region. The divide in performance when playing more than 1,500 miles away from home is why the race for the #2 in the West region is so important. Every mile counts.

What are your thoughts on the potential travel plans for the Pac-12’s title contenders? Leave a comment below or fire a Tweet to @boettger_eli and @PacificTakes on Twitter.