College basketball analyst & writer
Road wins are brutally difficult in conference, regardless of league or level. And each one needs to be savored.
That’s why it should have come as no shock that Oklahoma State couldn’t hold a double-digit lead at Kansas or UConn suffered its first loss at Xavier. When Kansas and Xavier play well — and that’s always at home for KU and more times than not for the Musketeers at home — it will be rare for them to lose.
So far, a handful of road wins could be the best of the season. As we turn to 2023 and into the heart of the conference season, road wins could also stand out in March as a reason to separate teams in selections and seeding decisions.
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Here are the 11 best so far, in consultation with KPI (Kevin Pauga’s metric site), although I’ve tweaked the order a bit:
1. Alabama 71, Houston 65, December 10: It’s Houston’s only loss this season — home, road or neutral. The Cougars will be in position to be a No. 1 seed. It’s the win that could finally push Alabama to a top-two line seed in March. Houston is the favorite among the Americans. Alabama is one of the favorites in the SEC.
2. Houston 69, Virginia 61, December 17: The Cougars followed up the loss at home to Alabama with a road win a week later at Virginia — the Cavaliers’ first loss of the season. Virginia had only one other loss, in Miami, which came a few days later. The Cougars limited Virginia to 61 points and proved that they are arguably one of the most resilient teams.
3. Indiana 81, Xavier 79, November 18: The Hoosiers were at full strength for the road win at Cintas, and it was clearly Indiana’s best win of the season. The Hoosiers have since lost to Arizona in Las Vegas and at Kansas as well as at Rutgers. But this victory will be the one that stands out in March. Xavier only beat UConn at home and the Musketeers only two losses were in Portland to Duke and Gonzaga. There’s a good chance Xavier won’t lose again at home. Indiana can’t get as good a road win in the Big Ten unless it can knock off Purdue, Michigan State or Illinois.
4. Penn State 74, Illinois 59, December 10: The Nittany Lions note that they are in the thick of the NCAA Tournament bid chase with the true road win in the Big Ten. The win came after Penn State had just lost in double OT at Clemson and at home to Michigan State. Illinois has been inconsistent but not so much at home. It was the Illini’s only loss in Champaign so far.
5. Kansas 95, Missouri 67, December 10: There’s no way anyone thought this would be one of the most important road wins of the preseason. But here we are with the Tigers a one-loss team after beating Illinois in St. Louis. Louis and roast Kentucky at home. Kansas is already a preseason final drive and Big 12 favorite. But this true road win will have shelf life all season.
6. wake up forest 78, Wisconsin 75, November 29: The Demon Deacons will be hanging around the NCAA Tournament bubble all season, in large part because of this win and a home Duke II Wisconsin hasn’t lost at home to anyone else so far. Wake Forest hasn’t been close in its other true road games yet. They will get a lot of mileage out of this one.
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7. Alabama 78, Mississippi State 67, December 28: The Tide proved it can win anywhere, but this was a big result for an SEC contender. The Bulldogs only have two losses and that was the first in Starkville. SEC teams will have a tough time getting Ws at Mississippi State this season.
8. Michigan State 67, Penn State 58, Dec. 7: The Spartans played one of the toughest schedules in the country — Gonzaga in San Diego, Kentucky in Indianapolis, Alabama in Portland — but one of the best wins came in a true road situation in State College. Road wins will be crucial in the quest to win the Big Ten.
9. San Diego State 76, UNLV 67, December 31: The Aztecs desperately needed this. They lost two games in Maui and a neutral-court game to St. Mary’s, but getting off to a strong start in the Mountain West against a fellow contender on the road will go a long way to helping San Diego State in the league and in selections/ Seeding.
10. New Mexico 69, Saint Mary 65, November 30: The Lobos are one of two undefeated teams remaining. This road win early in the season was a true indicator of how good the Lobos could be this season. The Gaels will win a lot of games and may only lose one more home game (Gonzaga). Saint Mary’s lost at home to Colorado State, which was a bit of an upset. Still, the Lobos’ true road win will carry a lot of weight.
11. Market 68, Villanova 66, December 31: The Wildcats are a possible bubble team. They have work to do. But keeping a place at Villanova will probably be their best selling point. Marquette got them in Philadelphia last weekend to continue to improve their resume. Look for this win to grow in significance.
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Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. He can be seen on the Big Ten Network, as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and he hosts the podcast “March Madness 365.” Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, before that, in newspapers for nine years.
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