Good teams lose games on the road. The midpoint of home court winning percentage is about 67%, and studies suggest that teams from all over the spectrum win about 26% more often at home than they do on the road. Ken Pomeroy numbers do even more to show how difficult it is to beat even middling top 100 teams on the road. All of this to say that good teams are going to lose when they travel to play other good, or even merely solid teams, on the road.
There is a difference, though, between losing and being boatraced by 25 in a game that didn’t really even feel that close. The numbers on getting blasted on the road are a lot harder to come by, to the point that it doesn’t seem a serious study has been made. So, how bad is bad?
First off, this has happened to Xavier before. (Yay?) Paul points out on Twitter that the two Elite Eight schools in team history also took pretty serious drubbings at least once during the year.
In 2008 Xavier lost Jan 16 @ Temple by 19.— Musketeer Musings (@MuskieMusings) January 11, 2017
In 2004 Xavier lost Jan 17 @ Duquesne by 13 and Jan 28 against GW by 21.
Even in years known as the benchmarks for success in this program, the team occasionally got nuked. The 2004 team followed that hiding by GW by going on the road to Dayton and promptly losing again. Everyone knows what happened after that.
Still, losses are never an indicator of success. There is no silver lining to getting crushed like that on the road by a team that you would love to eventually consider a rival. Is it possible to remain a Final Four contender after getting thumped by a team that clearly is one? Maybe this loss just shows the gap between where Xavier is and where they actually need to be. This is the argument that you’re seeing floating around Twitter right now. Is it true?
Last season on December 7th, Nova and Oklahoma met on a neutral court. Both were considered elite teams, with the Sooners and Buddy Hield an obvious Final Four contender. That day, the Wildcats got destroyed. They lost by 23 in a game that they never led. Oklahoma was ranked 10th in the KenPom that day. Yesterday, Villanova was third. In 2015 the Notre Dame that so nearly beat an undefeated UK squad was demolished by 30 about a month and half prior to that game. 2014 Virginia, another trendy Final Four pick and a team that was only ousted by Michigan State, lost on the road by 35 to a Tennessee squad that Xavier beat. The year prior national runner up Michigan suffered 23 point road loss to MSU in February.
In short, while it isn’t incredibly common, Final Four level teams do go on the road and get crushed by other good, or even decent, teams. Just a simple click back through the prior four years shows that very good teams do have frequently inexplicably bad losses on the road. It happens, and it happens relatively routinely. So back away from those window ledges, come back away from the edge of a bridge, and take a deep breath. Losing is never, ever, a positive indicator, but even getting mauled like this doesn’t mean the season is over or even on life support. Xavier looked horrendous last night and there are legitimate reasons to be concerned, but this thing isn’t over yet.