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The Scoop on Home Courts, Part 2
by Bryan Leonard - 12/26/2011
Next time you watch a college of pro basketball game, watch what happens when a player at home makes a great block or dives out of bounds to save a loose ball. The fans will erupt at the player’s effort. This all-out effort on the court can be contagious, and you’ll often see that player run down the court, followed by teammates who will copy his all-out effort at both ends of the floor. The crowd noise will grow even louder, which can result in momentum for the home team. This is why opposing coaches are so quick to call a time out when they see the home team and crowd going wild – they want to stem that momentum before the game gets away.
This also ties into emotion, which is much more apart of college athletics than the pros. Simply put, a home team has more chances to get fired up and play hard in front of the screaming home fans than on the road. At home, even bad teams can look like World champs for 48 minutes.
Another reason is confidence. Pro athletes are usually in their mid to late twenties or thirties, when confidence is most often developed. But college athletes are aged 18-21, when young players are still learning the game and – just as important – young minds are still learning about confidence. And when a college road team, for example, gets behind by ten points, psychologically a team can lose confidence or “pack it in” with the thinking, “Well, it’s just not our night. We’ll play better next time when we’re at home.”
Professional handicappers take careful note of rosters and identify which teams have an excess of youth and ones that have experience. You’ll often find new coaches who are trying to build a winning program will first try and get their young players to learn to win at home and to build confidence and excite the fan base. Once they’ve developed that, the next step is to teach them how to win away from home. Sports bettors take note: This is a slow process that can take years to develop – but sometimes never does.
Smart handicappers pay close attention to this and it takes knowledge, experience and hours of study to begin to identify when these young teams might be beginning to blossom. From a bettor’s perspective, for example, this offers opportunities “to play on” a young team at home and “go against them” when traveling.
Another reason for the home/road disparity is comfort. That is, players will practice at their own gym for a home game, where they know the layout of a building, a place where the temperature and even lighting conditions are always the same. If a guard shoots one-hundred jump shots at practice and gets in a groove, he knows the next day he’ll be taking those same jump shots in the same building from the same place on the floor he just hit, say, 75% in practice. But, on the road, a player’s comfort level can be very different. Players are taking bus rides, sleeping in airports or on planes, and even changing time zones. The comfort level is tweaked, and then they have to practice and play in unfamiliar surroundings, all of which contributes to the athletes not being at the same comfort level as when they’re home.
With big-name college programs, history and mystique can also play a role. Visiting teams walking into the home arena of Duke, Indiana, North Carolina or Kentucky can be awed by the championship banners hanging overhead and the huge crowds rooting against them. Athletes won’t admit that they’re “nervous” about playing those schools, but deep in their minds they can be thinking, “We have no shot here. Let’s just play this thing and get out of here. We’ll get them later in the season – at our place!”
Sometimes schools have longer road trips than others, too. The Denver Pioneers happen to be in the Sun Belt conference (go figure), where they have to face mostly teams from the southeast, such as Arkansas State, Florida International, Arkansas Little Rock and Western Kentucky. Denver has to cross time zones to play its road games in conference play, just as their opponents have to when traveling to Denver.
Many teams can look like world-beaters at home, and then go on the road the next game and look as sloppy as a kindergarten pick-up game. Sometimes a combination of factors can provide good go-against spots. And it’s not just the big-name schools where this takes place, either. College basketball offers great opportunities for handicappers as there are so many games and extreme home/road disparities like this. You can find excellent betting edges in college hoops by looking at large conferences like the ACC, Big East and Pac 10, as well as smaller conferences such as the MAC, Sun Belt or WAC.
Also, when tournament time rolls around, you’ll find teams playing on a neutral court. I examine the road records of both schools to see how each played away from home that season in an attempt to find edges. Some teams will be playing in their home state and may have a more fans in the stands than their opponents, which creates a “near home court edge,” which can sometimes mean making an adjustment in the number, though it’s usually not as prominent as the normal home court edge.
So make sure you break down home/road stats in college hoops for teams and even individual players. If you see what you perceive to be a soft line, look carefully at how each team scores and defends at home and on the road. Just as miners and archeologists till the soil to unearth hidden gems, successful sports handicappers dig through stats and situations to find bad lines and winning plays.