Home court advantage isn’t really a difficult concept in basketball. Teams are more comfortable when they play at home in front of their home crowd and sleep in their own beds, so they play better at home than they do on the road in most cases. Everyone understands that. When it comes to betting on college basketball, though, the challenge can be in figuring out just how significant the home court advantage is.
Unlike some sports where the advantage of playing at home is pretty widely agreed upon, in college basketball there is some disagreement over how significant the home court advantage is. Different experts will suggest using between three and five points to compensate for the advantage in your handicapping.
It’s a problem that there isn’t a consensus on what you should use to adjust for home court advantage, but given the uniqueness of college basketball it’s not all surprising. The problem is that with more than 300 teams playing the game it is virtually impossible to come up with one number that adequately compensates for the home court advantage in all cases. What you have instead is an average of all of the home court advantages. That average is likely to be very different from the biggest and smallest advantages. That means that if you use one number to compensate for home court advantage you will inevitably be overcompensating for the advantage in some cases, and under-compensating in others.
So, why does the home court advantage vary so much in college basketball?
Size and intensity of the crowd – Some schools play in front of 20,000 screaming, rabid fans that know their basketball well and know what to do to support their team and distract the opponent. Others play in front of a lot of fans dressed as empty seats. Obviously, the more intense the crowd, the the bigger the advantage for the home team.
The student section – Some schools can’t even manage to have a student section of note. Others have a section that are very loud, very well organized, and very good at getting under their opponents’ skin. The student section can have a major impact on the comfort of the visitors.
The type of building – Some buildings make it seem like the fans are either sitting right on the court or right over top of it. Others make the fans feel far removed from the action. The closer fans are to the floor, the bigger their impact can be. Quirkiness of a building can also be a factor – older buildings can be very unique and can give a huge advantage to the home team as a result.
Popularity of the opponent – When a very popular opponent – like Duke or Kansas, for example – visit a school without a strong tradition and rabid fan support then a lot of people in the building are likely going to be there to see the big name squad. That will obviously negate a lot of the potential home court advantage. The home court advantage can also actually be diminished if the reverse is true – if a very weak opponent visits a very strong one. It’s hard for a crowd to get too excited about a game that their team is certain to win, so the impact won’t be as intimidating as it can potentially be.
Experience of the visitors – If a team isn’t used to playing in loud, hostile environments then it can be a problem for them when they are asked to. Teams that play in these settings a lot, though, aren’t going to be nearly as bothered by the situation. A lot of this is determined by the conference teams play in – some conferences don’t have any particularly tough buildings to play in, while others are full of them.
Travel – In some cases it’s not playing the games that is the problem – it’s getting to them. Some schools are much easier to get to than others. The difficulty of the travel and how far the opponent has to travel to get there both have a big impact on home court advantage.
So, given all those factors, how should you deal with home court advantage? The best advice is to use a baseline – whatever you want it to be – and then figure out whether that baseline makes sense in this case. I use four points, and I think of that as an average crowd in an average building against an average opponent. From there I will adjust up or down a point or two based on how the factors listed fit into this particular game. Most significantly, though, with so many games available virtually every day in college basketball you don’t really need to worry about getting the home court advantage just right in a given game. If a line is so tight that the extra point or two of home court advantage either way will affect your decision then you are probably better off just looking at another game where the edge is clearer and more significant.