Analysis: Why can’t Missouri men’s basketball win on the road?

The Tigers have dropped a program record 34-consecutive true road games.

Maneater File Photo

Of all the exasperating statistics produced during Kim Anderson’s time as head coach of Missouri men’s basketball, the Tigers’ 34-consecutive losses in true road games is by far the most damning of them all.

Sure, there’s the fact that the team ranks sixth in the SEC in 3-point field goal attempts while shooting the ninth-worst 3-point percentage in the nation. There are of course the 13 players who have either left or been dismissed from the program during Anderson’s three years here — the equivalent of an entire team of scholarship players. And yes, their abysmal 8-44 conference record since Anderson’s arrival is difficult to ignore.

But failing to win a single game away from home that wasn’t played on a neutral site for three seasons is next-level bad. Anderson, who won eight road games in his final season at Central Missouri where he led the Mules to a 30-5 Division II National Championship season, is 0-29 in true road games since returning to coach his alma mater.

Missouri’s last true road win came on Jan. 28, 2014. That was 1,128 days ago, exactly three months before Anderson was hired in April 2014.

For added context, the last time the Tigers won on the road, Pitbull was dominating the music charts, the Oscars were still cool with being quietly racist, Jon Stewart was hosting “The Daily Show” and Donald Trump was still seen exclusively as a businessman.

This is not the first time in school history that the Tigers have struggled mightily away from home. Between 1995 and 1998, Missouri dropped 25 of 26 straight conference road games under Norm Stewart, including their first 16 games of the Big 12 era.

This incredible run of road futility beckons the question: Why can’t this Missouri team win away from Mizzou Arena?

An easy answer is that the Tigers really don’t win much at all, even at home. The fact of the matter is, in the three-plus seasons that this road losing streak has spanned, the Tigers have won a total of 31 home games. No team in the SEC has won fewer games at home. Over this stretch, Missouri just hasn’t won games in general.

But that they have won 31 games at home since their last away win is fairly mind boggling. Thirty-one home wins without a single win on the road? That cannot be explained alone by the fact that this Missouri team has not been good. In a sport as random as basketball, where a single bounce off of a rim or body part can swing a game, the fact that Missouri has been unable to steal a single road game over three-plus seasons is an anomaly on par with Leicester City and dark matter.

One explanation is that Missouri doesn’t win close games. In college basketball, no one goes on the road and consistently blows teams out, let alone inferior SEC basketball teams. A weak team like Missouri is seldom ahead big and has trouble closing teams out on its home court.

The numbers show that the Tigers do struggle in close games. According to SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, Missouri is 8-19 in games decided by six points or fewer or overtime over the past three years. Five of those 19 close losses have come away from home. This tells you two things: more often than not, Missouri is not playing close games away from Mizzou Arena, and when they have played close road games, they’ve pulled them out zero percent of the time.

But what is it about Missouri’s actual play that suffers when they leave Columbia?

Offensively, the Tigers do not fall off significantly on the road. This season, they’ve averaged 67.8 points per game away, just 2.1 fewer than their average of 69.9 at home. Missouri shoots virtually the same from the floor and from behind the 3-point line, and the Tigers in fact shoot better from the free-throw line away from home. For the most part, the Tigers’ offensive splits between home and away are minimal.

It’s on the defensive end where we see a considerable difference for the Tigers. Their defensive rating, which measures the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions, shows a pretty drastic change between home and road games. At home over the last three seasons, Missouri has sported an average defensive rating of 96.2, which actually puts them in the upper crust of the NCAA.

Away, though, it’s a different story. Over that same three-year span, the Tigers have seen their defensive rating balloon to 108.8 away from home, a scary number considering that the Tigers’ offensive rating drops 4.6 points when traveling. Giving up an average of 12.6 more points per 100 possessions is not a winning formula, and it is a major indicator of what has caused their road woes.

Missouri will have one more shot to end its 34-game road losing streak this season on March 4 at Auburn. It will also likely be the final opportunity for Kim Anderson to get a road win with the Tigers as his future in Columbia is facing imminent doom that has seemed certain for months now. Advanced basketball analytics website, Kenpom.com, gives Missouri a 20 percent chance to win the matchup.

For the pride of both Anderson and his team, a win on the road would provide a major boost on the regular season’s final day. But if the previous 34 road games are any indication, a win will probably not be in the cards.

Edited by George Roberson | groberson@themaneater.com

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