Florida vs. Missouri: Is the Tigers' undefeated home record a mirage?

Jamie Squire

Florida's only losses in the 2012-13 season have come on the road, and Missouri's tough in Mizzou Arena. It's easier to be tough when you're only playing bad teams, though.

Exactly one month ago, Florida spanked Missouri by an 83-52 count in Gainesville. It's probably going to be different in Columbia on Tuesday night.

Missouri, after all, might be the nation's best home team ... if you look only at records.

The Tigers haven't lost at home since Kansas State took a 78-68 win against them in February 2012, and they're thumping SEC foes in town: South Carolina, which took a 71-65 loss in January, is the only team to stay within single digits of Missouri in Columbia this year. (Four Phil Pressey turnovers and abysmal 5-for-27 three-point shooting had something to do with that.)

Here's the thing, though: Missouri hasn't played anyone of note at home except for Bucknell and Mississippi since that Kansas State loss, and wasn't playing many good teams before it. This season, Missouri's 1-0 against the KenPom top 50 at home (it crushed No. 41 Mississippi, 98-79), and a staggering 0-0 at home against teams in the current RPI top 50, thanks to Ole Miss slipping out of it to No. 51 after going winless last week. And of those 30 wins at home, a full 20 are against teams ranked No. 100 or higher according to KenPom.

Every power conference team does a little to fatten its record, but Missouri's padded its home slate with some of the worst teams in America: Binghamton, Navy, and Kennesaw State were all worse than No. 300 in KenPom's rankings in 2012, and SIU Edwardsville, Alcorn State, Nicholls State, and South Carolina State are all lower than 290th in KenPom this year. Just two of those teams were able to stay within 20 points of Missouri, SIU Edwardsville and Nicholls State, and the Tigers doubled up woeful South Carolina State — by a 102-51 count.

A comparison to Michigan State and Syracuse that takes more than two seconds reveals that those teams haven't just been better at home in the last two years: They've been much better. Michigan State beat Ohio State and Michigan in 2013, and beat Purdue, Wisconsin, and Florida State in 2012, losing only to Ohio State in its season finale. Syracuse hasn't played a great team at home yet in 2013, but downing Florida, Georgetown, and Louisville in 2012 counts for plenty, as does possessing an undefeated home record.

And while Michigan State and Syracuse have each played 18 teams outside the KenPom top 100 at home over the last two years, those schools have played a combined five teams ranked No. 290 or below according to KenPom.

Teams that run up gaudy home records without doing much elsewhere (Missouri's 1-6 on the road, with losses to LSU and Texas A&M, but an excellent 3-1 at neutral sites, with wins over VCU and Illinois) are more likely than not benefiting from flattering scheduling at home. And being great at home and on the road tends to make a home record less noteworthy.

After all, there's another team that has been phenomenal at home in 2013 that gets no credit whatsoever for it: Florida.

The Gators have been so good, regardless of venue, that their home dominance has gone under the radar — in truth, the Gators have been so good and so unshowy about it that many things about them have been downplayed. But here are Florida's home margins of victory, chronologically, from the 2012-13 season: 49, 18, 18, 13, 33, 39, 33, 31, 39, 14, 17. Florida has more wins by more than 30 points at home than it does wins by fewer than 30 points at home — and it's savaged the four best teams it's seen at home (Wisconsin, Missouri, Marquette, and Kentucky are all top-30 KenPom squads) by a whopping 99 total points.

Here are Missouri's home margins of victory, in the interest of fairness: 14, 37, 20, 16, 16, 30, 51, 2, 16, 17, 6, 22, 14, 19. That's certainly not bad, even if the single-digit wins came over Bucknell and South Carolina, but Missouri's average home margin of victory is a fantastic 20 points even; Florida's is an otherworldly 27.6.

Drop the biggest wins for both teams, both over terrible teams from HBCU conferences, and Missouri's margin of victory drops to 17.6, while Florida's falls to ... 25.5. And if Florida's reserves weren't usually in those games for a few minutes at the end, the scores might be even more lopsided.

All of this is to say one thing: I'm not as impressed by Missouri's home record as people who look only at wins and losses might be. But I ranted and raved about Arkansas' home record being a mirage when Florida headed to Fayetteville, only to have incredible Arkansas shooting make me look like a fool. I would say I'm worried that this bit of myth-busting is likely to blow up in my face again, but Arkansas' win over Oklahoma is just about on par with Missouri's over Mississippi, and it's actually seen elite teams (Syracuse, Florida) at home.

Missouri hasn't, and the only two elite teams it has seen, Louisville and Florida, have dusted it. This should be seen as more important than a bunch of big wins over bad teams at home.

Florida has a chance to ruin both the Tigers' perception and their home record tonight.

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