Last night, the Husky men’s basketball team lost 76-73 in overtime at Nevada. While the defeat was a bit of a surprise–Kenpom.com had Washington as five-point favorites entering the game–history suggests it probably should have been expected. The Huskies last beat a non-conference foe in a true road game (that is, not Seattle U at KeyArena) on Dec. 29, 2007, taking down Louisiana State in Baton Rouge. Since then, Washington has lost five games in a row over a span of nearly four years.
Since Lorenzo Romar took over the program, the Huskies have preferred to play their tough non-conference games on neutral floors (as they will next week, facing Marquette and Duke at Madison Square Garden) rather than in hostile environments. There have been few true road games and even fewer wins. Washington has gone 4-14 in such games under Romar, and 2-9 over the eight seasons Romar has had control of scheduling.
There are a few factors at play. The Huskies have historically been much better at home in conference play, something I wrote about in College Basketball Prospectus 2011-12. Beyond that, the record overstates how much Washington has struggled. The only decisive loss during the losing streak came at Saint Louis last month. Two of the other four games were decided in overtime, and last year’s loss at Texas A&M came by a single point at the buzzer. The number of things that had to go wrong for the Huskies to lose last night when they led by five in the final 20 seconds of regulation was enormous. Some of them–Darnell Gant missing a second free throw that would have essentially ended the game, Tony Wroten anticipating a foul call and pulling up defensively before Deonte Burton‘s tying three–were within Washington’s control. Others can only be chalked up to randomness. Eventually, one of those coin flips will go the Huskies’ way.
The other point that stands out is the difficulty of winning non-conference road games. Washington opened 2008-09 with a six-point loss at Portland, a team of similar ability to Nevada, yet went on to win the Pac-10 regular-season title. Remarkably, the Huskies have just two non-conference road wins in their six NCAA tournament campaigns under Romar: at San Diego State in 2003-04 and at Loyola Marymount in 2004-05. So while last night’s outcome was disappointing, it’s not really an indication of how the season will go.