© Rob Crowne &
Assoc., March 12, 2010
Successfully handicapping the NCAA Conference Playoffs and
the NCAA Tournament requires an awareness of the special factors the game
location presents. The supposedly
neutral sites are not necessarily neutral.
To analyze any advantage that may lie in the location of the
game, you must fully understand the factors that create a home court
advantage. What is generally referred
to as the home court edge is actually comprised of two equal parts - the advantage
to the home team of being home, and the disadvantage to the road team of
playing on the road. Some of the home
team edge may come from the physical court itself. In basketball, the dimensions of the arena, acoustics, sight lines,
bounce in the floorboards, tightness of the baskets, and proximity of the crowd
to the players, and amenities in the locker room can all play a part in
providing an edge to the home team. The
factors don't end with the physical court, however. Here are the home edge factors and road disadvantage factors that
may come from the geographical location of the game, and will exist independent
of the court on which the game is played.
The effect of the crowd cannot be
underestimated. The closer a game is to
the campus of a team, the larger the fan base can be expected to be for that
team. Teams playing a short drive from
their campus will have a much larger contingent of fans than a team that
traveled across the country for a game.
It is a demonstrable fact that tournament teams playing in their home
state have a higher tournament win-rate than teams from other states.
State lines, however, are not
always a good indicator. In some cases,
a game may be played sufficiently close to one team's campus to create a natural
fan base even though the game is being played in a different state. For example, in the Atlantic 10 Conference,
the 2009 Season Tournament is being played in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Even though Atlantic City is in a different
State, Philadelphia, PA is so close that a large percentage of the hotel and
casino workers in Atlantic City commute from residences in Philadelphia. Temple, located in Philadelphia, is likely
to have a larger attendance of fans than a team that is playing in its home
state, but on a court that is 400 miles from the campus.
Having personal friends and family
at the game can provide a great deal of incentive. The advantage of friends in the crowd is a function of the
distance of the court from the campus, not the physical court itself.
Anybody who has ever taken a long
trip by bus knows how uncomfortable and exhausting it is. After sitting in a bus or an airplane for
hours your legs get cramped. When you
arrive your legs feel wobbly. You are
not ready to walk let alone play basketball.
This problem is compounded by the fact that buses and planes are not
designed for very tall people with very long legs. Basketball players spend hours with their legs in tight,
uncomfortable quarters. When they
stand, they cannot stand up straight without hitting their heads. A trip that is difficult and uncomfortable
for an average size person, is four times worse for a basketball player.
On Saturday, March 13, 2010,
Tennessee is playing in its home state. Nevertheless, it is a solid 3+ hour bus
ride to Nashville, where the game is being played. Tennessee will either need to travel 3-4 hours on the day of the
game, or stay in a hotel with all the disadvantages of any road team. Thus, the only advantage that the location
will give to Tennessee over their
semi-final opponent, Kentucky is that the crowd is more likely to root for a
Tennessee team. Vanderbilt, on the
other hand, will have every home advantage available at the Sommet Center. If Vanderbilt and Tennessee should happen to meet in the Championship
Game, Vanderbilt should be considered the home team, and Tennessee should be
considered the visitor. .
- Physical Effects of Travel
If you have ever experienced irregular bowel movements, excess fatigue, or insomnia during the first few days of a
vacation trip, you understand the effect that sleeping I a different place,
eating different food, and in some cases being in a different time zone can
have on your body. Not sleeping in your
bed, not eating your usual food, not eating on your normal schedule, and not
sleeping and waking on your normal schedule all have negative effects on a road
2. Practice Schedules
The road team must share the
available court time, locker space and meeting space with all the other road teams in the tournament. Scheduled practices may be inconvenient, or
too short, and lockers may be crowded and uncomfortable. A player who wants extra practice time at
the free throw line, may not be able to get it. Compare that to the situation for a team with a campus only a
half hour away from the tournament site.
They can practice in their usual campus gym at their usual times and for
as long as they desire.
Being away from home can create a
number of distractions. In some
locations, such as Las Vegas, Hawaii, or Miami, just walking to dinner can
present distractions. Some teams lack
the discipline to perform well in locations in which they would rather be
taking spring break.
Of course, all the advantages of
the home fans and short travel time enjoyed by the local team are equal and
opposite disadvantages for teams that are attending from distant campuses.
Often the lines are set based on the public perception
that the game is being played on a neutral court. Mapping distances between the campuses and the tournament arena,
and adding or subtracting points for local advantages and disadvantages can
provide a winning edge over the line in many games.
I discussed handicapping for a neutral court in a blog article
last year entitled, "March Madness Statistical Handicapping."