There is an almost endless list of factors sports bettors can consider when handicapping the NCAA tournament. Some factors obviously matter more than others. One that I think is significant and often overlooked – or at least not looked at in as many ways as it should be – is the location of games. Here are five ways in which college basketball handicappers can figure how location factors into the outcome of games:
Geographic location – The home court advantage in college basketball is massive and can affect sports bettors. The intimidation factor of a large crowd is immense – both on opponents and, as numerous studies have shown, on referees and their decision making process. Teams will never play a true home game in the tournament, but some teams get to play a lot closer to home than others. On the most basic level, then, the closer to home a basketball team plays the more likely it is that a large number of their fans – and especially the particularly vocal, rowdy students – will be in the stands and ready to cheer their team on to success. being aware of what teams are likely to have more or less support is significant for handicappers. It goes at least one step deeper than that as well. Some teams have national presences that ensures that they will have a large amount of support regardless of where they play – teams like Michigan, North Carolina, Duke, and other high profile programs would fit in this group. There are also hoop teams that will have strong geographical support outside of their own area. Notre Dame, for example, will draw very strong support in areas with large Catholic populations.
Teams that have played somewhere before – Some of home court advantage – not a major part but definitely some – is a result of college teams playing in arenas that aren’t familiar to them in cities that they haven’t been to. This impact can often be stronger if the unfamiliar team is also young and not particularly experienced with settling in to new spots. As a college basketball handicapper, I don’t typically dwell on this factor, but I do look over the last couple of season’s schedule for teams to see if they are returning or visiting for the first time.
Type of arena – If a team hasn’t played somewhere before then I’ll start to think a bit about what type of stadium setting it is, and how familiar or unfamiliar hat will be. Some arenas that tournament games are played in are shiny and modern and massive. That could be intimidating for schools who don’t play in places like that – especially small schools that don’t see big crowds. Basketball teams that usually play in those new arenas may be less comfortable in older, more eccentric barns.
What other teams are in their pod – Games in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament are played in groups of two – one ticket gets fans in to two games that are played one right after the other. That’s heaven for fans without a particular rooting interest because they get to see a whole lot of basketball. Devoted fans of a particular team, though, likely have little interest in seeing other teams play. They would rater get ready for their game if they are playing in the second game, or celebrate or mourn the result of their game if they played in the early one. People may turn up in full force if both games in a pod are particularly impressive, but for the most part the games featuring the less popular teams will be scarcely attended compared to the other game. The smaller a crowd is, the less significant the impact of the crowd is, and the more teams can just play their game in search of which team is better. Scheduling, then, is a crucial factor to examine when thinking about the impact of location in the March Madness tournament.
Distractions – Coaches try their hardest to keep their teams focused and on task. The players are still college students, though, so that’s not always easy – especially when there are all the distractions that can be around during the hype and hoopla of the tournament. It stands to reason that a young team could be more tempted by what’s around them than a veteran, experienced squad. It also stands to reason that there is less to tempt a team in Boise or Spokane than there is in Chicago or Austin. Location matters for college basketball handicappers betting on the NCAA Tournament.