With the last games of nonconference play winding down this week and next, teams are preparing to settle back into the comfortable rhythms of their leagues. Schools will welcome familiar opponents and rivals, and road trips will be planned around the same old hotels and restaurants. For the most part, the random surprises of November and December travel are over.
In November 2007, ESPN.com ran a feature story about the distances that teams traversed during the season, focusing on the incredible mileage that the University of Hawaii racks up every year. As a sidebar, we produced a chart of the 10 most-traveled and the 10 least-traveled teams. Folks still ask about those numbers, so it's time for a 2008-09 update.
Mileages are presented from gym to gym, as the crow flies, and contain regular-season games only. Conference tournaments, postseason play, BracketBusters and other TBA situations are not included.
It's no great shock that Hawaii is once again at the top of this chart. Every Warriors road game requires a trans-Pacific flight, and the NCAA offers a schedule exemption for other teams to travel there -- the trip doesn't count against a team's 29 games. At the far other end of the Western Athletic Conference is Louisiana Tech, just over 4,000 miles from Honolulu (or, in our terms, the total distance that Bucknell will travel all season). Other WAC teams like Idaho, Boise State and San Jose State are regulars in lists like these.
The Sun Belt, which stretches from Miami to Denver, is wide as well, and the league's two southern Florida teams (Florida Atlantic and Florida International) are used to spending a lot of time on the road.
But one team that has increased its road warrior status is North Carolina, which, with 11,562 miles, has nearly doubled its mileage from last year. In addition to Wednesday night's game at Nevada, the Tar Heels played the Maui Invitational, took two separate trips to the Midwest (to Valparaiso and to Detroit to play Michigan State), and have two ACC road games in the state of Florida. If the Tar Heels ends up as the best team in college basketball, they will have earned it.
Rounding out the list is San Francisco, which has a Hawaii trip and an excursion to New England to its credit, and 1984 NCAA participant Houston Baptist, which made the jump back to Division I as an independent after some time spent in the NAIA. The Huskies are spending the season hiring themselves out for guaranteed games from coast to coast, and they are 0-14 so far.
And then there are college basketball's true home warriors, those teams that won't venture too far outside their city limits during the season.
Last year, Manhattan was the greenest team in college basketball, expending the least fuel in Division I. In 2008-09, Ivy League citymates Columbia win that prize, venturing only as far as Washington, D.C., for a Jan. 5 game against Patriot League champ American. Eight teams in this list are from the basketball-rich Tri-State area -- there are more than enough teams in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey to make up a full schedule.
One team on this list, Cal Poly, is also taking a stay-at-home approach to this season. After taking on a tournament in Iowa last year, the Mustangs have slashed their mileage by more than half (7,404 in 2007-08), took a single road trip to the state of Utah, and aren't scheduled to leave California for the rest of the season.
Radford, located in rural Virginia, is staying within a tight radius. The Highlanders of the Big South Conference won't travel west of Asheville, N.C., south of Charleston, S.C., or north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Aforementioned Columbia has logged only 46 travel miles so far, but certain power-conference schools are often criticized for not traveling too much during November and December. But Syracuse, often a target of this type of scorn, has already put in 3,836 miles, nearly as many as Davidson (3,952).
Can't say the same about the Orange's Big East brethren at Villanova, however. The Wildcats only left the Philadelphia metro area once -- for a short and quick trip up to New York City to play in the Jimmy V Classic.