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Home Court and Motivation

   by Bryan Leonard - 04/02/2010

As we approach the last few weeks of the NBA regular season, it’s apparent that home court and motivation are important handicapping elements. There are several NBA teams on the playoff bubble, meaning they should have extra motivation to show up every night. Chicago, Toronto, Memphis and Houston fall into this category in the NBA. Of course, when motivated teams have home court, those are two key edges for a single game. And if a team in that situation happens to be hosting a team that is going nowhere, that’s three motivational edges for one game.
The Final Four doesn’t have any home court edge, but that does happen from time to time in March tourney play. One season in an NIT games I used when South Carolina played Louisville, neither team had home court as it was at a neutral site. However, turning some analytical thinking around for a moment and you could find a different approach to that game. Louisville was a young team, and we know that young teams often play well in front of their home crowds, but can be poor away from home. That year’s Louisville team fell into that category, going 2-9 on the road!
When I put together my analysis of the Louisville/South Carolina game, it was clear that experience and youth were stark contrasts between the two and that was reflected in their play. Louisville shot just 38.3% from the field when taking to the road and were also outrebounded by 4 per game away from home. Louisville had the luxury of playing several home games in the NIT tournament, but now they headed out to a neutral site to play the Gamecocks.
South Carolina, on the other hand, was 13-9 straight up away from home, as they flattened Louisville, then trounced Michigan in the NIT title game. Impressively, the Gamecocks actually outshoot the opposition 45.3% to 44.6% away from home. They also held their own on the glass averaging 32 rebounds while allowing 32 per game. In that NIT tournament South Carolina went into two hostile arenas and beat Florida State and Cincinnati, holding both teams to under 42% shooting.
Examining home/road play was critical in that analysis. Even though both teams were playing on a neutral court, an examination of their road play all season held important handicapping clues.
Home court is no longer a factor in college basketball, but will be over the next month as the NBA regular season winds down and in the playoffs. Examine road trips carefully, how many home games bubble teams have left, as well as how teams have fared on the road all season. I’m not just talking about overall home and road records, but stats, points allowed, shooting percentages, team defense.
A bubble team like the Toronto Raptors, for instance, plays very good defense at home, but is awful on the road. Their last road trip out West: 0-4 SU, 1-3 ATS. Motivation and home court are key factors to study over the next few months.

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