There used to be only a few Big Ten men’s basketball venues you could pretty much pencil in as a road loss, whether it be Michigan State’s Breslin Center, Purdue’s Mackey Arena or Wisconsin’s Kohl Center.
If you picked up victories in those hostile environments, it was a big deal. Now it seems that almost every home court in the Big Ten is a difficult place to win for opponents.
Other than the two teams with a losing overall record — Northwestern and Nebraska — the rest of the Big Ten has a record of 115-10 at home, including a staggering 38-3 home record in conference play.
That’s why the Gophers (10-7, 4-3 Big Ten) are facing a daunting task with four of their next six games on the road, starting with Sunday’s game vs. Rutgers (13-4, 4-2) in Piscataway, N.J. The Scarlet Knights (12-0) and Maryland (11-0) are the only two Big Ten men’s basketball teams undefeated at home this season.
“It’s really, really hard to win on the road,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “We’ve done it at home. You’ve got to find a way to do it on the road to take the next step.”
When it comes to home vs. road this season, Pitino knows there’s been a huge difference in the success of his team. The Gophers are 0-5 in true road games, including three losses in conference games. They are not alone. Four other Big Ten teams were winless overall in true road games: Indiana (0-3), Maryland (0-4), Michigan (0-5) and Nebraska (0-5).
In some ways, Nebraska and Northwestern are still in the category of most favorable opponents to play on the road. The Cornhuskers, for instance, beat Purdue and Iowa at Pinnacle Bank Arena, but they also lost to Southern Utah, California-Riverside and North Dakota at home.
Facing a top-25 opponent hasn’t been so intimidating for Big Ten teams, either. Unranked teams improved to 11-1 vs. ranked opponents at home after Wisconsin squeaked by No. 17 Maryland 56-54 on Tuesday, Iowa beat No. 19 Michigan 90-83 on Friday and Penn State drubbed No. 21 Ohio State 90-76 on Saturday.
Beating two ranked opponents at home gave the Gophers some confidence after they suffered some disappointing Big Ten losses on the road this season. They were clobbered 72-52 at Iowa on Dec. 9 but regrouped to upset then-No. 3 Ohio State 84-71 at the Barn the following week. They beat Michigan 75-67 last week coming off a loss at Michigan State.
Sophomore center Daniel Oturu has played on an All-America level this season. The best example is that he has been even better away from home, averaging 23.3 points and 12.7 rebounds (compared to 20.3 and 12.1 overall).
“It’s bigger than just one guy,” Oturu said. “This team can go places. We can shock a lot of people.”
But how do others besides Oturu carry some of that confidence with them on the road?
Playing like an All-Big Ten guard at home, sophomore Marcus Carr averaged 25 points in four conference home victories this season, which included 27 points and nine assists in Wednesday’s 75-69 victory over Penn State. But he is averaging 12.2 points on 25.7% shooting in six road games.
Carr had 27 points in a double-overtime Jan. 2 loss at Purdue, but his seven turnovers were costly down the stretch when the Gophers lost for the only time this season when leading with five minutes left in regulation. Carr picking up four fouls early in the second half at Michigan State also made it difficult for Minnesota to have a chance to win last week in East Lansing.
It’s typical for basketball players to feel more comfortable at home. But in the Big Ten, road losses are almost guaranteed if the Gophers aren’t at their best.
“We talk about it a lot making sure we take care of home,” Carr said. “But we also have to put it together on the road as well, because half our games are on the road. We got to win those as well, so we have to do a better job of putting together a full 40 minutes on the road.”