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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Gophers basketball dominate at home, struggle on the road

Minnesota has shown they are a team with two personalities this year and will need to figure out how to win on the road.
Image by Emily Pofahl
Gophers forward Eric Curry challenges a defender at Williams Arena on Thursday, Dec. 10. The Gophers went on to defeat the Kansas City Roos 90-61.

Empty stadiums, no crowd noise, home court advantage diminished — all three things are true to some degree, yet the Gophers men’s basketball team has looked as one-sided as possible. A team that appears to be one of the best in the Big Ten at home plays like one of the worst while on the road.

“Clearly, we’ve played very good basketball at home, and clearly we haven’t played great basketball on the road. I still don’t really understand why because there are no fans. I just think, for whatever reason, we’ve been better at Williams [Arena],” head coach Richard Pitino said.

Minnesota opened up its season with six straight home non-conference games. The team went 6-0 and were off to a hot start in front of a predominantly empty stadium. They were then given the tough task of traveling to Champaign, Illinois for their first road game of the season that didn’t go all too well.

That was the start to what the season has been through 16 games on the year. A mostly unstoppable team at home with a record of 11-1, and a team that fails to show up on the road: The Gophers have had four away games, in which they are 0-4 and have lost by an average of 19.75 points in those games.

To the Gophers’ credit, those four losses have come against teams that were highly ranked at the time. No. 13 Illinois 92-65, No. 6 Wisconsin 71-59, No. 10 Michigan 82-57 and No. 5 Iowa 86-71. They haven’t had the easiest start to the Big Ten season, but that doesn’t account for the difference in road versus home play.

Two out of their four away losses have come against teams that have come to Williams Arena, and the Gophers have beat previously. The Gophers upset the Hawkeyes in an overtime thriller and looked like a completely different team the second time around against the Wolverines, while earning their second top-10 win.

So, what is the difference between these home and away games? Pitino continues to harp on the fact that there are no fans and there really shouldn’t be a difference in his team when it comes to where they play.

“The interesting thing is there is no fans. I’m gonna say that anytime [reporters] bring that up. There are no fans, there was no home court. It’s all neutral sites,” Pitino said.

For the Gophers, it’s been their shooting percentage and turnovers, which usually is the factor in most wins and losses. In their 12 home games, the Gophers are shooting 44.3% from the field compared to 31.6% in their four road losses. That’s pretty much been the story for the Gophers this year – shoot well and they win games, don’t and they lose.

On top of their improved shooting percentage from the field, that also comes with improved shooting percentage from behind the arc. In home games, the Gophers are shooting 31.1% from three compared to 25.6% on the road. That isn’t a huge difference and has still been the Gophers biggest problem this season.

“Guys, I don’t know how smart I am, but if you’re dead last in three’s, you should not be first in attempts,” Pitino said.

It hasn’t just been the offensive side that has differed in these road games compared to the home games. The defense, as a whole, has been a lot better in the wins, and not too hot in the losses.

Minnesota has held its opponents to shoot 38.2% from the field and 30% from deep at the Barn. On top of that, they force their opponents to be sloppy on the offensive end and have forced about 14.3 turnovers per game.

“It’s not tough to play on the road because there are no fans. The challenges you have at home are the same as they are on the road. That’s the bottom line, if we defend like we did today, if we disrupt like we did today, we’ll be better in any venue. It doesn’t matter where we play,” Pitino said following a home win over Michigan.

The story gets a whole lot different when it’s time for the Gophers to leave Minneapolis and travel to another Big Ten school.

Their 31.6% shooting from the field on the road makes it hard to win games, while allowing 54% shooting. Minnesota is also shooting a less than stellar 25.6% from three, while allowing 42.6% shooting from deep. Its shooting has been uncharacteristic while away from the Barn and it has led to an 0-4 start.

“Now I know, certainly, the routines for the guys are a little bit easier when you’re not travelling. But to me, it really should not matter, they’re all neutral site courts,” Pitino said.

In its most recent game, Minnesota hosted Maryland and played similarly to how it has on the road. They shot 30.4% en route to their first home loss of the season.

The Gophers schedule features five more home games and five road games — assuming the Nebraska game doesn’t get rescheduled — and the team will look to get its first road win of the season on Jan. 30 against Purdue.

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