Staff Picks Futility

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Last updated: 02/18/2014 8:34 PM
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Men's Basketball
Staff Pick Futility Underscores Change in B1G Basketball

By John Porentas

Traditionally the-Ozone hasn't done a lot in the way of picking game results. Now we know why.

This season the-Ozone staff has been picking the outcome of the Buckeyes' Big Ten basketball games, and the results have not been pretty. As a group, the staff has a record of 13-28 for a winning percentage of 31.7 percent.

Yes, we know, you can do better flipping a coin.

As a matter of fact, not one person on the-Ozone staff has a winning percentage of 50 percent or better. Put another way, that coin would be right more times than any one picker on our staff. As much as we'd like to think that we are simply dealing with smart coins, it's more likely that we are dealing with dumb pickers. Mercifully, OSU Head Basketball Coach Thad Matta thinks it really isn't a matter of ineptitude, it's just a sign of the times.

"I think it's just the nature of this league and the nature of college basketball right now," said Matta in answer to a question as to why there are so many home-floor upsets this year in the conference.

"I think from top to this league is as good as it has ever been just in terms of there is nothing easy, no matter who you're playing or where you're playing at, it's a grind."

As one veteran reporter pointed out to Matta today, coaches at every school in every league say that every year. Matta smiled at that remark, but added that this year it appears to be true.

The numbers bear Matta out. If there has been one consistent truism in basketball over the years it's been that the home team has an advantage. The rule of thumb for winning a conference championship has always been to defend your home court, then hope to steal a few road wins.

Under that formula, you'd expect that the top teams in the league will suffer very few home loss while the bottom-feeders would lose at home neatly half the time. Recent history in the Big Ten says that's exactly how seasons have played out.

According to the B1G conference office, in the 2011-2012 season road teams went 41-67 overall for a winning percentage of .380. In 2012-2013, road teams were 39-69 for a winning percentage of .361. Those are the kind of numbers you would expect when the top teams are registering a win on the road about half the time, and the bottom teams aren't winning on the road much at all.

It's a different picture this year.

At the moment, road teams are 34-42 in league play for a winning percentage of .447. That is a 33 percent increase in winning rate for road teams.

Consider this. The Buckeyes have three home losses, to Iowa, Penn State, and Michigan. Michigan has lost at home to Wisconsin. Michigan State has lost in East Lansing to Michigan and Nebraska. Iowa has lost at home to Michigan State and Ohio State. Wisconsin has lost at home to Michigan, Northwestern and Ohio State. Last year's league champion, Indiana, has lost in Bloomington to Michigan State, Northwestern and Penn State.

In addition to the league losses, Michigan lost to Arizona in Ann Arbor and Michigan State to North Carolina in East Lansing

That's a lot of home court losing by programs that don't normally lose at home, and at least in part explains why the-Ozone staff has picked so poorly this year. If you listen to Matta, the coaches around the league might have just as bad a record picking games. According to him, coaches no longer feel there are any sure wins on the schedule, home or away.

"I don't think there's a coach in the Big 10 that feels good going into a game, like 'chances are, if we play basketball we're going to win the basketball game'. I think there is so much parity," Matta said.

"I learned in year one just how hard it is. I don't think it's even just this conference. I think it's across college basketball."

It's hard to put a finger on why all of a sudden home court seems to have less advantage. One theory is that the B1G is very much a coaches league, and that the coaches around the league know each other so well that it almost impossible to have any edge other than the home court. In the last few years, however, there have been coaching changes at Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota, so there is some element of the unknown in the league that there hasn't been in a while. Matta wouldn't say that was an explanation, but didn't rule it out either.

"It could, because obviously Northwestern has played with Coach Carmody in the past. Minnesota is pretty similar to when Coach Smith was there. Maybe it is the new faces,' he said.

Maybe, but more likely it's just a matter of the bottom of the league getting better and being able to pull off the road win occasionally. Whatever it is, it certainly makes the league race more interesting, even if does make the fools trying to pick the games look bad.

The days of picking a team because they are the home team are soon becoming a thing of the past. For proof of that you need look no further than OSU's next opponent, the Northwestern Wildcats. Who among you would have picked the Wildcats over the Buckeyes in Columbus a year or two ago? I don't see any hands. This year those same Wildcats have beaten Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota, all on the road.

No wonder we're 13-38 making picks. Those three Wildcat road wins are games I'm sure we would have gone 0-fer, and makes picking the Buckeyes this week against Northwestern just because they are at home a pickers fool's gold.

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