HOME COURT ADVANTAGE
This particular entry is inspired by a conversation with RJ Bell earlier this year, as well as the Tennessee @ Vanderbilt basketball game played this evening on ESPN.
One of the most difficult things that we handicappers must factor into our personal capping systems is a point adjustment for the home team. It is called home court advantage, but in reality has very little to do with the basketball court per se. The courts are, after all and in most cases, identical except for their paint jobs. Rather, the advantage for the home team lies more in the size of the arena, the configuration of the building, the intensity of the crowd, and sometimes how far the visiting team has to travel to get to the venue.
Some power ranking experts fix the home court advantage at 4 to 4.5 points. Ridiculous, says I. One well-known ranker does adjust his home court advantage number, but never more than about half-a-point and the adjusted number still applies equally to all home teams. In other words, all these numbers are meant to represent the average number of points one should allow to the home team. And, while many facets of handicapping do rely on averages, the home court advantage issue is one in which I try to be more precise. After all, this "average" could be in the middle of a very wide spread of true home court advantage numbers. In fact, that is exactly the case. So if you use a stock, average number in all games to determine home court advantage, you are in all likelihood making a much larger or much smaller adjustment than you should. This could result in throwing away the value you thought you saw in a particular line, or producing a false edge for one team.
All home court advantages are not created equal.
Good teams have more homecourt advantage than bad teams. In fact, there are some teams to which I actually assign a negative number ... home court disadvantage, if you will. Half-filled gymnasiums, indifferent student bodies, quiet smatterings of applause after a slam dunk, and choruses of groans from alumni backers do little to boost a team's confidence. Quite the opposite.
I have a chart developed over many, many years of handicapping that I use when adjusting for home court advantage ... and even the many different numbers on that chart are subject to a sliding scale depending on other circumstances surrounding a particular game, thus producing even more numbers. But in no way should one (average) number be used. Glancing at my chart, it would be a big mistake to use the same (average) home court advantage number for a game played at Mississippi State and one played at Yale.
In my opinion, you would be better off capping all games as if they were being played on a neutral court -- that is, make no adjustment at all -- than you are in making the same home court adjustment for every game.
And, no, my chart and the numbers thereon are not for sale. But I will tell you that the three teams heading the list which receive the most points from me when they are playing at home are:
Duke, Vanderbilt, and Syracuse.
In Matty O'Shea's forum thread yesterday re: today's Tennessee @ Vanderbilt game, I posted underdog Vandy as a small (one point) outright winner. They won by 3. But before my substantial home court adjustment, I was showing Tennessee as a bigger favorite than the Vegas line. The home court adjustment flipped the game to Vanderbilt's favor.
Never underestimate that @ sign.