Last night the Huskies defeated USC on the road in a tough, hard fought win. Afterwards, via news recaps, radio, other fans, I kept hearing how this was a great win because it’s a road win, and well, it’s assumed the Huskies don’t win on the road. As I listened to all of this, something was nagging at me: Aren’t the Huskies a decent road team? Aren’t they good enough? They win road games, and yet every time they do, people act as if they have NEVER won a road game, and now it just has become a mantra, “Romar can’t win on the road” and so forth. Because of this I decided to roll up my sleeves and get into the stats, because the stats don’t lie.
The sample set is the years 2002-2003 through last season, 2009-2010. These are the 8 full years Romar has been at the UW. I am looking at only in conference road records. That’s 72 road games for each team, 9 games a year for 8 years.
Here is an Excel spreadsheet I cooked up with all the details. It’s in Google Docs, so feel free to open and look at it, my comments below make more sense if you are looking at the spreadsheet at the same time. Here are the results:
School – Win % – Win-Loss
Arizona – 56% – 40-32
UCLA – 56% – 40-32
Stanford – 46% – 33-39
California – 44% – 32-40
WASHINGTON – 43% – 31-41
Arizona St – 37% – 27-45
Wash St – 36% – 26-46
USC – 33% – 24-48
Oregon – 31% – 22-50
Oregon St – 18% – 13-59
As you can see, the Huskies are right in the middle, but in the upper half. Stanford, Cal and UW are essentially tied, with Arizona and UCLA by themselves at the top and the Oregon schools in the cellar. Here are some of my observations:
The Huskies overall record on the road is not .500, but it’s not terrible either. There are only two schools out of ten in the last eight years who have an above .500 record on the road in the league. That tells me it’s hard to win on the road. So hovering around .500 on the road isn’t a bad thing, it’s just normal. (as an aside, Arizona and UCLA had some insanely good seasons early/mid in the decade, including an undefeated season by Arizona in 2003, so those years do throw the sample off a bit, just keep that in mind, those seasons are anomalies).
The Huskies, right now, are more talented than the four teams in front of them on this list, so going forward I expect these numbers to change positively for the Dawgs (last night’s win helps).
The five teams behind the Dawgs on this list are, in a word, terrible on the road in conference (ASU is bucking the trend the past two seasons, but on the whole they aren’t that good, and I expect them to stink this year). Of the 40 combined seasons these teams have played, only 5 seasons have resulted in an above .500 record on the road. That’s bad. Those types of numbers deserve criticism. Oregon and Oregon St are historically bad, Wazzu had two great season under Tony Bennett, and USC is just, well, USC, I have no idea what to say about them (their fans don’t care, why should I?). The upshot? The UW isn’t as bad as the majority of the league on the road.
To focus more on the Huskies, in the 8 years Romar has been head coach, the Dawgs have made the Big Dance 5 times. In those 5 years, the Huskies were above .500 on the road in conference 4 times. The exception was last year at 44%, but that number doesn’t tell the whole story because they finished the year winning 3 straight on the road, and then 3 more on a neutral court in the conference tourney. So away from home, in conference, last year, they were 7-5. The other three years when they did not make the tourney? Terrible. 3-6 and two 1-8 records. But those teams were not very good overall. They were imbalanced, young and incomplete teams that struggled. The upshot? When the Huskies are good, and I mean NCAA Tourney good, they are good on the road, they do not struggle in conference. They win the games they need to win on the road, then take care of business at home. When they are bad? Well, they are bad on the road. It’s not a big surprise, so why do people act as if they are bad when in fact they are good?
Overall the above point supports the broader data set. Of all the teams with above .500 records on the road in league over the past 8 years, all but one made the NCAA’s. The one not to make it was last year’s ASU Sun Devil team that was snake bit by an historically bad Pac-10 season nationally. Of the teams with sub .500 records on the road in conference that made the NCAA’s, 4 had to win the Pac-10 tourney to get in, most likely they would not have made the NCAA’s without the automatic bid. There are some exceptions, but on the whole, if you are good enough to be above .500 on the road in conference, you are good enough to make the NCAA’s.
The point I am trying to make here is the obvious fact that if a team has enough talent to make the NCAA’s, they will win on the road in conference. The years the Huskies had that talent, they won on the road. The years UCLA went to all those Final Fours? They won on the road. Arizona is always pretty good, so they obviously win on the road. But when a school has a bad team with sub par talent, wins on the road are by far the hardest to come by.
I think there is a notion among Dawg fans that even when Romar has a really good team, they can’t win on the road. That’s a myth that needs busting. You can make the same argument for any other school in the league, and probably nationally. UCLA can’t win on the road without Kevin Love. Arizona can’t win on the road without Lute Olson. Stanford can’t win on the road with Johnny Dawkins as head coach, and so on. This problem is not unique to the UW and I think it’s unfair to hang this stigma around Romar’s neck as if he’s the only coach/program with this problem. It’s a basic truth of sports: Superior talent = wins. Wins on the road are the hardest types of wins, so superior talent is needed to succeed away from home. Look at the top two teams on the list above, Arizona and UCLA. I don’t need to tell you how talented those two programs have been the past decade. Multiple Final Fours and loads of lottery picks. Of course they won on the road. The Huskies have had talented teams but nowhere near those two, so why expect the Huskies to be just as good? I think frankly the Dawgs have always played to their talent level on the road, just like everyone else.
I’m sure I am missing some trend in the data that helps clarify things, but you can look at my spreadsheet and decide for yourself. I am trying to bust a myth that I am honestly tired of hearing from people who should know better (some of them are getting paid to cover or follow the team). I know fans can and do believe things someone else repeats and they they just blindly repeat it not caring if it’s true or not. I know it can be frustrating, especially in the past, when the Dawgs would lose a road game they should have won. I understand that. But lets not let a handful of games cloud how we view this program as a whole, which in line with their talent, have been good on the road, relative to the rest of the conference. (I love high expectations, I want them to win every road game, I want this program to be on top of this list in a few years, so don’t accuse me of being a nancy fan with my nerd machine. The UW is my alma mater, I’m a Dawg for life, I’ll always be disappointed when they lose and glad when they win).
It’s worse elsewhere, you could be Oregon or Oregon St…