Home court is inexplicable


LITTLE ROCK — Hop-scotching the Country Club of Little Rock course during a Razorback-related scramble, Lou Holtz caught up with our group in time to take a crack at a birdie putt on the short 11th.

A couple of us missed because of a shaky stroke, but Holtz’s attempt went awry because the putt defied gravity. Given the same putt, a club member with a decent memory would have ignored what he saw and played the putt to break uphill.

Our group knows the 14th plays a half-club longer than the yardage on one of the courses we play and that on another, a large tree on the left of the 13th fairway is more in play than it appears from the tee box.

Virtually every layout has its quirks, accepted as home course knowledge. I understand that.

I do not understand home court knowledge in basketball. Other than harassment from the crowd, all things are equal. The three-point line is 20-9, the basket is 22 feet away after one three-foot stride onto the court from the corner, and the rim is 10 feet high.

Anybody who saw Arkansas beat Missouri in Fayetteville and lose to the Tigers 17 days later in Columbia would swear that Mike Anderson did not use the same players. The role reversal goes far beyond feeling comfortable shooting in familiar surroundings.

Confident or inspired or whatever, the Razorbacks competed like heck in Walton Arena. At home, Missouri played defense like a Top 10 team and Arkansas settled for three-point attempts. More aggressive on offense at home, teams are often rewarded with free throws. Villanova shot 42, Georgetown eight in an upset of the Hoyas this week. In Columbia, it was Missouri 40, Arkansas 13.

If the Razorbacks were the only ones guilty of the Jekyll and Hyde thing, we could break it down. If the phenomenon was confined to the Southeastern Conference, the conclusion would be that the league does not have a great team. But, losing on the road permeates college basketball.

The Big Ten is supposed to be the best league in the country. The league leader by a game, Indiana is 6-2 on the road. The four teams pushing the Hoosiers have each lost at least five road games.

Under consideration for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Duke is 4-4 on the road.

Two of three — a good point guard, a decent three-point shooter, and a post presence — can transform a team and the guess is that there is not much of a talent gap between the conference leaders and those in the middle of the standings. Skilled high school players who believe they are only a year or two away from the NBA want to play immediately and they choose a school where that can happen.

In addition, there is so much ado about road woes that players on both sides might start thinking about it as soon as the visitors miss a few and the home team makes a couple.

The power of the home court will be fully tested today in Lexington and Knoxville. Florida is better than Kentucky; to a lesser degree, Missouri is superior to Tennessee. Neither home team can afford a loss. Supposedly, Tennessee is barely in the NCAA field and Kentucky is just outside the 68. The mere fact that the Wildcats, Ole Miss, and Alabama are still viable says something about the softness of the NCAA bubble.

If all seven home teams win today, the standings will be Florida 14-4, Kentucky 12-6, Alabama 12-6, Missouri 11-7, Tennessee 11-7, Ole Miss 11-7, Arkansas 10-8, LSU 10-8, Georgia 9-9, and others. Alabama holds the tie-breaker over Kentucky, Ole Miss wins a three-way tie, and Arkansas is the eighth seed, going against Georgia in Nashville.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is hking@arkansasnews.com.