The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team (17-10, 10-6 Big Ten) has been mediocre at best on the road this season, but at the Kohl Center, the Badgers play among the best teams in the Big Ten.
Across 14 home games thus far, the Badgers have an impressive win percentage of 0.929 (13-1), a record that would place them in a tie for third place in the Big Ten, behind only Maryland (15-0) and Rutgers (17-1). The Badgers’ home resume features wins over Marquette, Maryland, Michigan State and The Ohio State University, all of whom are likely to make the NCAA Tournament come March.
Contrary to the Badgers’ impressive record at home, Wisconsin has struggled on the road with a 4-9 record away from the Kohl Center. This includes a 4-6 record in true road games and an 0-3 record in neutral-site games.
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Obviously, as most basketball fans know, home-court advantage has a huge influence at both the collegiate and professional levels. Generally, teams have a better win percentage at home than they do on the road — which is the case in the Big Ten this season, where all 14 teams have played better at home than they have on the road.
What separates this Wisconsin team from previous Wisconsin teams is just how much better they play at home compared to on the road. When looking at the Badgers’ win percentage differential between home games and neutral/road games, the 2019-2020 season is drastically different from previous Wisconsin seasons.
For those of you who like numbers, let me break it down for you — Wisconsin’s 0.929 win percentage at home is a whopping 0.621 percent better than their road win percentage (0.308). The only team in the Big Ten to have a greater margin between home and road win percentage is Rutgers, who has gone 17-1 (0.944) at home and 1-9 (0.100) in road/neutral games — a difference of 0.844, which is simply unheard of.
Last season, Wisconsin went 12-4 (0.750) at home compared to 11-7 (0.611) away from the Kohl Center, a difference of just 0.139.
Across the past 10 seasons (2009-2010 season to the 2018-2019 season), Wisconsin’s smallest differential from home record to road/neutral record was the 2014-2015 NCAA Tournament runner-up team, which went 16-1 (0.941) at home and 21-3 (0.875) in road/neutral games.
Wisconsin’s largest differential across the same 10-year stretch was the 2010-2011 season when the Badgers finished a perfect 18-0 (1.000) at home but went just 9-9 (0.500) when playing elsewhere.
Yes, Wisconsin’s quality of opponents at home and on the road differs from year to year, but they’ve played some teams twice this season, both at home and on the road. This includes Ohio State (won on the road and at home), Purdue (lost on the road, won at home), Michigan State (lost on the road, won at home), Nebraska (won on the road and at home) and Rutgers (lost on the road, won at home).
So what does all of this mean for Wisconsin men’s basketball this year?
On the surface — and most obviously — it means Wisconsin is one of the best teams in the nation at home, but an average team when they are away from the Kohl Center.
On a deeper level, there is reason for concern as the Badgers approach tournament season. Wisconsin has just four regular-season games remaining, with two of those taking place on the road — at Michigan Feb. 27 and at Indiana March 7.
After the regular season concludes in early March, the Badgers and the rest of the Big Ten will converge in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament, which runs from March 11 to March 15. While no team in the Big Ten is great on the road (Maryland and Penn State are the best at 7-4 in non-home games this season), the Badgers will be faced with tough competition all weekend.
Since the Badgers currently sit in a tie for the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten, they will need to win most, if not all, of their remaining games to move into the top four, which would allow them to get a two-round bye in the tournament.
With the Big Ten Tournament just a few weeks away, the Badgers need to solve their road struggles before the regular season ends if they want to perform well in the Big Ten Tournament, and further, in the NCAA Tournament. While there will certainly be plenty of Badger fans in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament, there will also be a wealth of fans from the other 13 teams, making it a true neutral tournament.
Stay tuned in March to see if the Badgers are able to overcome their road struggles as the regular season draws to a close and the tournament season begins.