Wisconsin basketball had a horrible week.
Junior guard Brad Davison had been handed a one-game suspension for a low blow on Iowa guard Connor McCaffery. Shortly after the Big Ten announced Davison’s suspension, Badger sophomore guard Kobe King announced he was leaving the program.
All of this drama served as a massive distraction for the Badgers’ next contest, a battle with then-No. 14 Michigan State. Many (myself included) wondered if the events of last week would sink a Wisconsin squad with NCAA Tournament aspirations.
However, I overlooked one major fact. Wisconsin was playing Michigan State at home. And if the home team isn’t Northwestern or Nebraska, it’s almost a guarantee they will either keep things close or win in Big Ten play.
Even though the matchup looked horrible on paper, the Badgers rode another hot shooting performance at the Kohl Center to a big lead against the Spartans and held on late for a 64-63 victory.
Such is life this year in the Big Ten, a year in which home teams are 56-16 in conference play — which rounds to about a 78% home winning percentage. This season is on-pace to smash last year’s percentage of 63%, and the dominance of home teams (combined with a weak bubble) is the main reason why.
It’s no surprise that the league’s top teams have been fantastic at home. Illinois, Maryland, Michigan State, Iowa and Rutgers have yet to lose a home game in Big Ten play. Maryland and Rutgers haven’t lost a home game all season.
So what makes playing at the Xfinity Center against Maryland or at the RAC against Rutgers so difficult?
In Maryland’s case, the Terrapins elevate their defense at home. In home Big Ten games, Maryland limits opponents to 36% from the field and 58.8 points per game. The main culprit for Big Ten offenses falling flat when they visit College Park, Maryland, is the Terrapins’ solid 3-point defense. Mark Turgeon’s squad limits visiting conference opponents to 22.6%.
Solid home defense is the reason why Maryland is ranked as the No. 9 team in the country, but in its conference losses, the defense fell flat. In Maryland’s three conference losses, it allowed opponents to shoot 41.7% from the field and 36.4% from 3-point range. In those three games, the Terrapin defense allowed an average of 66.3 points per game.
As of Feb. 4, the Terrapins boast the No. 144 scoring offense in the country with 72.3 points per game. So while Maryland’s offense is capable, it isn’t great and makes its money flustering visiting opponents.
Speaking of teams that aren’t great offensively, Rutgers is the No. 182 scoring offense in the country with 71.2 points per game. What Rutgers does have is an elite defense. In fact, the Scarlet Knights allow 61.1 points per game, good for the No. 16 mark in Division I.
Rutgers’ defense translates into suffocating Big Ten opponents at the RAC. In Rutgers’ six conference home games, its opponents shoot 39% from the field against Rutgers and 27.8% from 3-point range. The Scarlet Knights also force an average of 13 turnovers per game in their Big Ten home games.
Like Maryland, Rutgers’ defense folds on the road. Rutgers allows 71.2 points per game in its Big Ten losses, allowing opponents to shoot about 43% from the field and about 33% from 3-point range. Those numbers aren’t terrible, but Rutgers is more comfortable keeping games in the 50s and 60s, which doesn’t give its offense much room for error.
What I’m going to say next may sting, but it’s a harsh reality with how this season is going for Nebraska basketball. Teams on the bubble in the Big Ten, or any team for that matter, cannot afford to drop games to Nebraska and Northwestern, especially at home.
Six Big Ten teams boast Nebraska or Northwestern as their lone conference road victory, and it’s seen as an advantage to have multiple games against the Big Ten cellar dwellers remaining on the schedule.
In fact, Nebraska and Northwestern are the only two teams in the Big Ten with losing records at home and on the road. Not only is Nebraska winless on the road in the Big Ten, it is 0-7 on the road on the season.
Interestingly enough, Nebraska hasn’t been horrible offensively on the road in conference play. Nebraska shoots 40.6% from the field and 35% from 3-point range. Those numbers aren’t great, but they’ve been enough to keep the Huskers close in near-road upsets of Indiana and Rutgers. The Huskers also average 71 points per game on the road in the Big Ten.
Where Nebraska does struggle is on the defensive end. In five Big Ten road games, Nebraska allows opponents to shoot 46.5% from the field and 37.9% from 3-point range and concedes an average of 79 points per game. While Nebraska is in the midst of a lost season, head coach Fred Hoiberg can take solace in the fact that his team is at least competing on the road.
It will be a big task for Hoiberg to keep his team mentally focused to compete on the road as the season draws to a close, especially as the Huskers try to snap a seven-game losing streak. Nebraska’s road contests aren’t getting any easier either. The Huskers’ next three road games are against ranked opponents: No. 17 Iowa on Feb. 8, No. 9 Maryland on Feb. 11 and No. 20 Illinois on Feb. 24.
In addition to stealing a road game, taking advantage of home court and not losing to Nebraska and Northwestern is all that can be asked of the other Big Ten teams. With what we’ve seen in the conference this season anything’s possible, so don’t count out the possibility of trends we’ve seen all season fading and chaos ruling.