Road woes aplenty as Big 12 teams navigate conference grind
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger warned his then-No. 1 team of the challenge it would face at Kansas State, even though the rebuilding Wildcats were near the bottom of the Big 12 standings.
The Sooners failed to heed his warning in time.
Buoyed by a boisterous home crowd packed inside Bramlage Coliseum, the Wildcats roared back from an early nine-point hole for an 80-69 victory on Saturday night. It was the third time Oklahoma had lost in league play, and all of those defeats have come away from the Lloyd Noble Center.
“It’s tough to win on the road, period,” Kruger said afterward.
Oklahoma is hardly alone in its road-trip woes, though. All three of Kansas’ Big 12 losses have come away from home. Ditto for Texas. And Oklahoma State and TCU have yet to win away from their arenas in league play.
Perhaps the home-court advantage is a little more pronounced in the Big 12 than elsewhere.
“Well, for us it’s been hard to win at home,” Horned Frogs coach Trent Johnson said, jokingly.
“You can’t argue with going to Lawrence. Hilton Coliseum is tough. Gallagher-Iba is legit. The home-court advantages in this league are exceptional,” said Johnson, who has also coached in the Pac-12 and SEC, among other leagues. “But I go back to the Big 12 Tournament, our first year, we were the first game against Texas Tech and there were 8,000 people there. That speaks volumes to the fan base.”
Indeed, the feverish fan bases are a big reason Big 12 environments are so tough. But there are others, from the coaches — five have been to the Final Four — to the veteran players lining up each night.
Then there are the buildings themselves.
The Jayhawks have won 35 straight at Allen Fieldhouse, and coach Bill Self has more league titles (11 in a row) than losses (nine) in the building. Six of the past nine seasons, Kansas has been perfect at home, with just one loss each of the other three.
Want to know how tough Hilton Coliseum is? Ask the third-ranked Sooners, fourth-ranked Iowa and sixth-ranked Kansas, all of whom have lost at Iowa State this season.
Gallagher-Iba Arena is such a brutal environment that the Jayhawks have lost to Oklahoma State there three straight years. And the reigning conference champs have had a similarly tough time at West Virginia, losing three straight games at the Coliseum.
“That’s why we’ve been able to have the best conference in the country,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said Monday. “When opponents come and play Big 12 schools, they don’t get many wins, and that’s because of the fan support and atmosphere. A lot of our arenas, fans are closer to the action.”
Part of the reason for that is many of the arenas are older.
Gallagher-Iba was constructed in 1938. Allen Fieldhouse opened in 1955. Most of the other arenas were built in the 1970s and ’80s. As a result, fans are packed tightly into seats near the court, rather than spread out in wider seats or luxury suites that have become the hallmark of modern arenas.
It creates such an advantage that “you can’t drop a home game,” Drew said.
The Big 12 had a cumulative home record of 106-22 heading into Monday night’s games, putting it in a near-deadlock with the Pac-12 for the best home winning percentage of any Division I conference.
And since league play began, Big 12 teams were just 17-33 on the road against each other, according to STATS. That’s a winning percentage of .340, worse than all but five of 32 conferences.
By comparison, Big Ten teams were 34-43 on the road against each other.
“We’ve been fortunate to win our last three on the road,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm, who is in the midst of his first trip through the Big 12 grinder. “But I haven’t been to Kansas — my players have, and they talk about what a great experience it is. We haven’t been to West Virginia and Baylor. All I know is the atmospheres are great and we have really good players, and that makes it really tough.”