clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Road Weary Or Road Warriors?

The ACC may be in a down cycle but winning on the road is still very difficult.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 29: Virginia Cavaliers forward Mamadi Diakite (25) and Duke Blue Devils guard Wendell Moore, Jr. (0) chases after a loose ball during a game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Virginia Cavaliers on February 29, 2020, at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA
Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We recently examined the relative home strength of each ACC men’s power, and what that foretold about the competitive fates of visitors and hosts this season. What we haven’t done in a long while is examine how league programs fare on the road, where innate squad strengths are heavily relied upon to achieve success.

Of course coaches will insist the venue really doesn’t matter. You can probably anticipate what they’ll say: ‘We’re not playing the crowd, we’re playing the team in the other uniforms.’

Still, advantages do accrue to most any home team. Winning on the road is a weighed challenge, for reasons ranging from tradition to familiarity with quirks of playing surface and shooting background to the personal comfort levels of members of both teams.

(Again this year covid protocols and dangers add an element of uncertainty and hassle, presumably a condition that will recede as vaccinations spread and self-indulgent and/or political resistance to the common good fades.)

Once in a while a really good team, armed with enduring confidence, actually derives fuel from antagonistic hosts. “You kind of thrive on the animosity from the crowd,” said former Cy Young-award winning baseball pitcher Max Scherzer. “It’s kind of fun to pitch on the road and everybody’s just screaming. You just have that road warrior mentality.”

Visitors to UNC’s Carmichael Auditorium such as NC State’s Norm Sloan insisted Dean Smith made sure to have the heat turned up to discomfit visiting squads. Whether true or not, the belief gave the Heels a psychological advantage much-coveted by Smith.

Smith, a Hall of Famer, also thought home-standing players were a bit quicker to the ball; he confided knowing of a pro team that took advantage of that edge by pressing only at home, not on the road.

Belief in a home court advantage may not mean much, but it shouldn’t be discounted.

Eighty percent of ACC teams posted a winning cumulative home record over the past five years. Only three programs – Boston College, Pitt and Wake – did not.

Compare that with the success rate of road teams: of 75 ACC squads competing from 2017 through 2021, just 21, a bit better than one in four (28 percent), posted a winning road record.

Five schools failed to achieve a winning record away from home in any single season over the past half-decade.

In fact, during that span Georgia Tech, last year’s ACC champion, enjoyed a single season when it won more away games than it lost within the conference. And that was in 2020, not the year it captured the league title.

Duke, Louisville and UNC essentially broke even on the road across the past half-decade. Such success speaks especially well of the Cardinals, who endured a pair of coaching changes and several run-ins with NCAA rules during that span.

But the powerful trio’s prowess paled in comparison with Virginia, which augmented its gaudy record at JPJ Arena with three wins for every loss (35-11) on the road.

North Carolina in 2019 and Virginia in 2018 were the sole unsullied visiting squads during the period. Conversely five schools endured at least one winless road mark since ’17 – BC and Pitt twice and Miami once.

Wake Forest, perhaps already accustomed to tepid crowd response at home after a decade floundering under Jeff Bzdelik and Danny Manning, unexpectedly played .500 ball (5-5) away from Joel Coliseum in 2020. That was a better road winning percentage than eight other ACC clubs in what proved Manning’s last year at Winston-Salem.

Perhaps the most curious road record since 2017 belongs to Clemson. In the intervening years the Tigers suffered a single losing ACC season, in ’17 when they finished 6-12 within the league and eked out a 17-16 overall record. Twice (2018 and 2021) they impressively ended the season tied for one of the top five spots in the standings.

Yet Brad Brownell’s teams failed to notch a single year during that period with a winning record away from Littlejohn Coliseum, accumulating no more than three road wins in any season.

In fact, Clemson has won away from home more than it lost in just two ACC seasons, in 1977 and 1987. No wonder it’s common practice around the league to roll out the welcome mat when the orange and white come to town. (Just kidding.)

ACC Team Records On Road, 2017 Through 2021
(2021 Game Totals May Differ Due To Covid)
5-Year R
School 5-Year
R Win% 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017
14 BC 5-38 .116 0-6 3-7 1-8 1-8 0-9
10 Clemson 13-31 .295 2-5 3-7 3-6 3-6 2-7
2 Duke 24-22 .522 3-6 6-4 7-2 5-4 3-6
6 FSU 19-25 .432 3-4 6-4 5-4 2-7 3-6
11 GaTech 12-33 .267 3-5 5-5 2-7 1-8 1-8
4 Louisville 22-22 .500 4-3 6-4 4-5 4-5 4-5
12 Miami 11-35 .239 1-8 2-8 0-9 5-4 3-6
4 UNC 23-23 .500 3-6 2-8 9-0 4-5 5-4
7 NC State 19-27 .413 5-4 4-6 4-5 4-5 2-7
9 No. Dame 17-31 .327 3-7 4-6 1-8 4-6 5-4
15 Pitt 4-40 .091 2-5 1-9 0-9 0-9 1-8
8 Syracuse 18-27 .400 2-6 6-4 5-4 3-6 2-7
1 Virginia 35-11 .761 6-3 7-3 8-1 9-0 5-4
5 Va Tech 19-24 .442 3-3 3-7 5-4 5-4 3-6
13 Wake 11-36 .234 1-9 5-5 1-8 1-8 3-6