Tonight, the Washington schools take their national rankings down to the Northern California, looking to steal a few Pac-10 road wins. While the visitors with the gaudy records and little numbers next to their names might appear to be favored this weekend, it would be a major upset if either school managed to pull off the Bay Area sweep.
Winning on the road is always tough, and winning on the road in the Pac-10 is even tougher. Just ask ESPN’s Andy Katz, who writes in his blog (quotes in italics):
The Missouri Valley, like the Pac-10, shows just how tough it is to win on the road this season.
The Pac-10’s unique geographical distribution allows for convenient 2-game road trips to be grouped into ‘pods’, so Cal could play at Arizona on a Thursday night and at Arizona State that Saturday night. While any road trip can be treacherous, and all but the best teams go on the road hoping to just steal one game, none of the trips are more treacherous for visitors than the swing through Northern California.
I’ve looked at the home records for each of the Pac-10 teams over the last 10 years, discounting the rivalry games, which are a different animal altogether (notwithstanding the strange things that happen when rivals play, teams often only play one game that week, have substantial support on the road, and often can sleep in their own beds). Over this time period (which includes Cal spending two years playing at the Oakland Arena while Harmon Gymnasium was being renovated into Haas Pavilion), the Bay Area has proven the toughest place to get a win, and almost impossible to get a road sweep. How tough?
Cal’s record : (56-24) .700
Stanford’s record : (66-14) .825
Overall Pac-10 opponents winning percentage in the Bay Area : (38-122) .238
While Cal may be relieved to finally have ended 13 years of futility in Maples, it should be noted that 4 other Pac-10 teams (Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington) all have current losing streaks of at least 10 games in Palo Alto.
Here’s a breakdown of how each team has fared in Northern California over the last 10 years:
Arizona (12-8) .600
UCLA (9-11) .450
Arizona State (5-15) .250
USC (3-17) .150
Washington (3-17) .150
Oregon (2-18) .100
Oregon State (2-18) .100
Washington State (2-18) .100
Only Arizona has a winning record, and UCLA is the only other team with a respectable showing. Every other team has fared dismally. And not only is it difficult to win here, but it’s almost impossible to come away without a loss. In the past 10 years, it’s only been done 8 times, 5 times (predictably) by Arizona, twice by UCLA, and once (improbably) by Arizona State.
In fact, even with two Top 25 teams coming to town, we should expect both Cal and Stanford to come away with at least one victory. Only three times in the past 10 years has Cal gotten swept at home, and only twice has Stanford suffered the same fate. In that span, they have never gone winless over the same weekend.
How does this compare with other road swings in the Pac-10? Here’s the home records of the five ‘pods’ over the last 10 years.
Bay Area (122-38) .763
Arizona (109-51) .681
Los Angeles (103-57) .644
Oregon (80-80) .500
Washington (72-88) .450
Clearly, the Bay Area is the toughest place to win. Arizona is tough almost entirely because of UA, who has gone 70-10 at home over this span, while Los Angeles is the only other ‘pod’ where both teams have winning records at home. On the other end of the spectrum, Washington has been relatively easy almost entirely because of Wazzu’s dismal home record, going 23-57 over the last 10 years.
There are a number of factors that lead to making Northern California a tough place to win, chief among them the fact that both Cal and Stanford have had sustained success, but I won’t attempt to separate their influences. Surely the packed gyms and rowdy fans have had something to do with this, as had (until recently) the ridiculous bouncing floor at Maples. Also contributing is the fact that teams can’t concentrate on one team, like they can against Arizona, because neither team is the pushover that Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona State and, to a lesser extent, USC, has been. Teams can’t simply lay it out and give Stanford their best shot because they’ve got to turn around and play a tough Cal team two days later, and vice versa.
Suffice it to say, I’ll be at Haas tonight and Saturday, and I expect that we’ll pull of at least one upset this weekend. Hope to see you there too. Go Bears!
One final nugget, also from Andy Katz:
The Big 12 and the Pac-10 reached a scheduling agreement, not agreement on a conference vs. conference challenge, according to the Pac-10.
That’s clear, because unlike the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, there isn’t an even number of teams participating. Arizona and Stanford are playing two games each in the Big 12-Pac-10 series to allow for all 12 Big 12 teams to get an opponent.
The best thing about the arrangement is that is sets up some marquee matchups that might not have occurred, like Texas at UCLA and Texas A&M at Arizona. Arizona also is playing at Kansas in a previously scheduled game. Texas Tech will play Stanford in a return game of the one they played at the Pete Newell Challenge this season.
Washington at Oklahoma State and Oregon at Kansas State would be the third- and fourth-best games in the series.
Remember, any home Big 12 game can be on ESPN, but the Pac-10 home games will be Fox-owned.
Here’s the press release, which includes the full schedule for next year. Looks like Cal gets a home game with Missouri, to be returned in 2008.