It happens almost every year, one conference has a collection of teams that are hard to beat on their home court. This is not always found by those betting NCAA basketball, but oddsmakers know.
As play begins on Feb. 3rd, Pac-12 home teams are 31-13, winning at a 70.4 percent clip and have a spread record of 26-17-1, 60.4 percent. This is important to know if you are making NCAA basketball picks, with possible plays to be made in the weeks ahead backed with this knowledge.
The latest Sagarin Ratings have the Pac-12 in a dead heat with the Big Ten as the third-best conference in the country behind the Big 12 and ACC. This is an enormous improvement from five/six years ago when this league trailed the likes of the Atlantic 10 and even the Mountain West and if you watched their conference tournaments, you were probably falling asleep with how bad the basketball was.
So what has caused the change and why can't road teams win and cover? Let's examine.
Understanding the Pac-12's Nature
To start with, the Pac-12 is different than other conferences and it's scheduling reflects this. Teams are located in groups of two by state or region which means each week, other than when you face your local rival, you are playing a two road games or two home games.
Before Larry Scott took over as commissioner, the Pac-12 was strictly on a Thursday- Saturday schedule, with a rare Sunday contest when he took over the job. Now, with ESPN contracts and their own network, Wednesday's are on the docket and far more Sunday's, easing the schedule for players instead of the two games in three days grind.
What Makes This Year Different?
Like anything in life, it is never one element that determines an outcome, rather a series of events that leads to a conclusion.
There has been a number of coaching changes in the league which were necessitated when basketball reached its low ebb, despite of effusive praise of Bill Walton's and his "Conference of Champions." Hot beds like Los Angeles and Southern California in particular were losing too many elite recruits to Top 10 programs like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Connecticut. The new coaches have been able to keep the vast majority of players at least on the West Coast, which has improved teams like UCLA, USC, California and Oregon and has a positive effect on other partners like Utah, Colorado, Washington, as it is cool again to play in the Pac-12.
Whatever team rankings website you want to use, the Pac-12 finds the majority of its teams bunched into the 30 to 80 range, with the only outliers Arizona and Oregon ahead of the pack and Washington State off the pace.
With most clubs heavier in sophomore and junior classes and virtually all of these teams having a freshman playing a significant role, this type of squad does not always travel well. The key point is comprehending the rankings, which indicate a number of above average clubs, but lacking in elite talent, which most likely needs time to mature. In simpler terms, think of Kentucky teams which did or nearly won national champions with absolutely superior talent, compared to this year's club which has very good players, who will get better in the coming years, but are 2-5 SU and ATS on the road this season.
Without the necessary senior leadership or overwhelming talent differential, these teams are prone to play fearless at home with the support of the crowd and wilt when on the road.
Will This Trend Continue in Pac-12?
To answer this question, probably not, only because if you are reading about this for the first time, oddmakers have been monitoring this for a week or better and have begun to adjust the NCAA basketball odds.
February tends to be separation month, where the better or worse teams begin to separate. However, the spread is the great equalizer and I recall the Missouri Valley Conference had the exact same instance with home teams in 2008 or 2009 and visitors ended up covering under 37 percent of all games played.
Best advice, look at every Pac-12 home team, consider them as a play if factors favor them and keep track to see if this trend continues.