In no major sport, pro or college, is winning on the road more difficult than in college basketball in conference play.
That’s every year in every league. This year, in the Big Ten, it’ll be worse than most, likely producing a league champion with a 13-5 record, 14-4 at best.
As Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Monday in Minneapolis, this is as strong as the Big Ten has been in his 18 seasons as MSU’s head coach.
“I don’t even think it’s (close),” Izzo said Monday. Read this story by colleague Joe Rexrode for more of what Izzo said on the Big Ten, which has five teams ranked in the top 11 of this week’s AP poll.
One of those teams won’t be there next week. No. 11 Illinois fell at Purdue, collapsing down the stretch Wednesday night. Like No. 18 MSU, which fell 76-63 at No. 9 Minnesota Monday, the Illini had the upper hand midway through the second half.
Both are examples of the better team falling on the road — Minnesota’s ranking is slightly bloated, unlike the depth of its bench and its girth in the post — struggling against the tension of the moment, a frenzied opponent and the energy of a building rooting against them.
Three of the Big Ten’s four games played have been absolutely brutal for the visitor, mostly because they were the visitor, including 5th-ranked Indiana’s 69-65 survival of Iowa at Carver Hawkeye Arena.
The other didn’t go well for the visitor because the visitor was Nebraska visiting Ohio State. The Cornhuskers and Penn State are the only two soft road games on the schedule this year, though a Drew Crawford-less Northwestern squad might join them.
Everywhere else, there is potential for defeat, including against the three remaining ranked teams on MSU’s road itinerary, No. 2 Michigan, Indiana and No. 8 Ohio State. The Spartans don’t travel to Illinois this year.
Whichever team emerges is the team that wins a place or two it shouldn’t and treats its home court like it’s protecting its family. And whichever team that is, regardless of the blemishes on its Big Ten record, deserves a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.