If road games were more like beer pong, they would be a lot easier to win


The Wall Street Journal in 2009 conducted a study on the toughest sports from which to win on the road. In naming an overwhelming winner, it cited such factors as paranoid fans blaming referees and the inexperience of players away from home, things such as those competing in a familiar venue having more resiliency and being less likely to give in during tough stretches of a game.

It referenced the advantage of elite home teams scheduling guaranteed wins early in a season and how television has made it difficult for visiting sides to travel and play well at all hours of day and night.

It went into great detail about the advantages of rowdy and creative sections of fans.

And no sport -- the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, Australian football, Japanese baseball, Dominican Republic baseball, English or Argentine soccer, the USA Rock Paper Scissors League, the National Beer Pong League -- was thought to be tougher on road teams than college basketball.

Not that the beer pong guys would care after five or so rounds.

"It has always been that way in" college basketball, UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "Other than for perhaps the really elite, elite teams across the county, everyone finds it difficult to win away from home."

The Rebels of late have fallen into such a dilemma and tonight face their biggest road challenge of the season, given what remains at stake in the race for a Mountain West Conference regular-season title and the fact their opponent is perfect at home in league play.

Colorado State is fighting for its NCAA Tournament life and UNLV for the opportunity to share or win an outright championship, meaning if the Rebels are going to overcome the road blues that saw them drop consecutive games at Texas Christian and New Mexico and escape in overtime at Air Force and Boise State, they'll do so by getting the Rams' best effort on Senior Night.

You would be pressed to discover many teams nationally with a bigger disparity in terms of how they execute at home as opposed to the road than UNLV. The Rebels are 15-0 at the Thomas & Mack Center, where they tend to leave most teams gassed and beaten midway through the second half. They are 6-6 in true road games, where they tend to blow 18-point leads and make opposing players look like NBA All-Stars.

"We're maniacs at home, too," said Colorado State coach Tim Miles, whose team is 13-1 at Moby Arena and has won 12 straight there. "I read a stat where the Final Four teams from a year ago only won 40 percent (it was actually 43.6 percent) of their road games. It would make sense with a few midmajors like Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, but 40 percent for Final Four teams means it must be pretty tough to win on the road.

"At this time of the year, everyone feels like they have something at stake. We feel like we need to win to improve our NCAA at-large chances. We all feel like we are playing for our athletic lives."

Consider: The Mountain West ranks fifth in Ratings Percentage Index among conferences nationally, ahead of the Atlantic Coast and Missouri Valley and Pac-12. It's also just one of four leagues with four teams among the top 34 in RPI and only one of two with no team with an RPI lower than 166.

Six of eight Mountain West teams have at least 17 wins, and the combined home record in the league is 105-20.

Translation: When you factor in those numbers and the often bizarre travel hiccups that teams encounter heading in and out of altitude, it's not as simple to merely expect a UNLV or New Mexico or San Diego State to find great road success.

Translation II: Everyone not named Kentucky has flaws, and the road only magnifies them.

So it becomes the challenge for UNLV tonight to play much better than it has away from city limits. It's probably a must-win situation if the Rebels are to entertain any championship thoughts, given one of the teams -- New Mexico -- they're tied for first with hosts Air Force and Boise State this week.

"It gets talked about so many times across the country, it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," Rice said of road troubles. "It gets into the mindset of coaches, players, fans, whoever it may be. How we dispel that myth probably is to just go out and win more games on the road.

"I spend a ton of time in the car or watching video late at night thinking about all those things that have been difficult for us (on the road), talking to staff and our players. I think you have to talk about it. We have not played well on the road of late, and we have to change that if we're going to beat a very good Colorado State team.

"We know the challenge."

It's a huge one. This isn't a beer pong road match.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

 

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