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College Basketball's Home Court Dynamics

By: Jim Feist
Date: Jan 12, 2016
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by Jim Feist

All basketball are not created equal! At least that's the impression you get when examining how teams play at home compared to on the road. A few years ago, Michigan State outscored teams by a 73-58 average at home, but on the road the Spartans were outscored by a 69-65 count. The same was true for Minnesota: The Gophers average score at home was 81-67, but on the road they were being beaten by a 74-67 average. This explains why that same season Bowling Green was a 10-point home favorite over Akron, and then a 2-point dog at Akron. Yes, college hoops has a very distinct home/road difference. For the record, oddsmakers were right in that example, as the home teams won each time.

One reason can be the building. Major college basketball clashes find around 17,000 fans for a game, while baseball and football games average 40-60,000 people. Yet, the hoop games are indoors in an enclosed facility, and when the fans start screaming and cheering, it reverberates and can sound like 100,000 people. Whereas, in outdoor football and baseball stadiums, generally speaking, the noise is not as loud, even though there are many more people present. Players are more likely to give everything they have (diving for a loose ball, for example) in front of cheering home fans, than on the road, it’s simply human nature.

The old Boston Garden was well known to have a strong home court edge for the Celtics. It wasn’t little green leprechauns that helped the Celtics win, but part of it was the psychological mystique of all the championship banners hanging from the rafters and the fact that the confines of the building were different than other arenas. That is, the balconies hung down near the edge of the court, meaning the fans were much closer to the players than in other NBA arenas. This was because the old Garden had been built in 1927 as an all-purpose facility – for sports events, the circus, even political rallies.

Visiting teams admitted that the atmosphere was different and louder than other arenas, and it was. It’s no accident the 1986 Celtics went 40-1 straight up at home and 39-2 the next season, home records that still stand. The Celtics road record during that 39-2 home season was an abysmal 17-22 SU. Talk about a Jeckyl and Hyde team!

Look at Alabama one recent season: 14-4 at home, but 3-7 SU, 4-5 ATS on the road. This is nothing new. A few years ago the Crimson Tide was nearly unbeatable at home, going 17-1 straight up and 8-4 against the spread. But on the road, unbeatable ‘Bama was anything but, going 2-7 SU/ATS. It even happens in small conferences. From 1999-2001, Ohio went 11-1, 11-2 and 11-2 straight up at home, with a winning ATS record every year except for a 6-6 ATS mark in 2000. But on the road, Ohio had a losing road record every year, and failed to cover often with 5-8, 8-5, and 4-7-1 ATS road marks in those seasons. So make sure you break down home/road stats in pro and college hoops for teams and even players. If you see what you perceive to be a soft line, look carefully at how the team you like plays at home as compared to on the road. Because knowing your numbers will help you identify upsets like Chaminade and Florida State before it happens, not after you’ve paid the big price with the road favorite.

  Jim Feist
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