Does Home Court at the Final Four Help?

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2010

With Butler’s magical run through the West Region to make its first-ever Final Four in its home city of Indianapolis, it got us thinking about whether having home court advantage this deep in the Tournament actually means anything.  It’s great to have the fan support on your side, but when you get this far into the season, all of the teams remaining have won games in hostile environments and are still standing for a more compelling reason (they’re really good!).

 

We decided to take a historical look at some situations in the last fifty years of the Final Four where we feel that there could have been a home court advantage of some kind for the Final Four and Championship Games.  We tried to limit our choices to a three-hour driving radius from the host venue, but we recognize that some fanbases will travel to the moon to see their team while others can’t be trifled with moving off the couch.  So bear with us.

A brief review found seventeen such instances in the last half-century (Butler @ Indy is #18).  Of special note is that there were only seven situations where a team got to play in its home state (including last year’s Michigan State @ Detroit situation) and only twice where a Final Four school played its games in its home city as Butler will do this coming weekend (UCLA both times).  Here’s the list of what you really want to know, and we’ll break down each instance below that to determine if we think HCA had an impact. 

Final Fours Involving Home Teams

  • 2009 – Michigan State (@ Detroit) – 90 miles.  Ford Field was completely full of Spartan fans last year, and it may have helped Tom Izzo’s club play inspired basketball to pull of an upset in the semifinals against UConn.  It was not at all helpful against UNC two nights later, though, as Sparty got run out of the building in a total mismatch.  If we were going to suggest an effect of holding HCA here, it would have been only in the semifinal game.
  • 2005 – Illinois (@ St. Louis) – 180 miles.  This one was pretty far from Champaign, but there are Illini fans aplenty all over the state of Illinois and in the St. Louis metro area, so it’s not too much of a stretch to call Bruce Weber’s team the home team here.  The problem is that they were already a really good team that easily beat a Cinderella in Louisville before playing and losing to eventual national champ UNC in the final minutes.  It’s very hard to say that there was an HCA here because Deron Williams’ and Dee Brown’s Illini were so good.
  • 1994 – Duke (@ Charlotte) – 140 miles.  This Duke team was hoping to re-enact NC State’s title run within the state lines some twenty years prior.  After a matchup in the semis against Florida that the home crowd may have helped with a little bit, they then lost to a superior Arkansas team in the national title game.  It’s difficult to project just how much being in Charlotte helped, but keep in mind too that Duke doesn’t have the in-state following like UNC and NC State do. 
  • 1988 – Kansas (@ Kansas City) – 35 miles.  If there was ever a home court advantage that helped an underdog get through, this may have been it.  The #6 seed Jayhawks, playing a half-hour from campus in the heart of Big 8 Country, took down Duke and Oklahoma in succession behind Danny Manning and the Miracles.  The game wasn’t actually in their home state of Kansas, but it may as well have been (Kemper Arena is located mere feet away from the MO/KS border).  Does Butler have a Danny Manning?
  • 1980 – Purdue (@ Indianapolis) – 65 miles.  This year there were two teams at the Final Four who were within easy driving distance of the games, but Purdue was not the beneficiary.  Despite playing a #8 seed UCLA, the Boilermakers lost by five points in their home state of Indiana roughly an hour away from campus. 
  • 1980 – Louisville (@ Indianapolis) – 115 miles.  In a completely jacked-up Final Four that featured a #2 seed (Louisville), a #5 seed (Iowa), a #6 seed (Purdue) and a #8 seed (UCLA), Louisville was clearly the best team left.  The Cardinals undoubtedly had good support in Indy for their first-ever national title run, but they probably could have won this event in Nome, Alaska had it been scheduled there instead.
  • 1976 – Rutgers (@ Philadelphia) – 60 miles.  Rutgers came out of a very weak east region (beating VMI in the regional finals) to get to the Final Four, where Michigan smacked them around, eventually winning by sixteen points.  Any HCA that RU may have had in Philly was more than counterbalanced by the talent of the Wolverines. 
  • 1975 – UCLA (@ San Diego) – 120 miles.  There was so much going on here that it’s hard to say what mattered the most.  John Wooden’s retirement game.  The fact that UCLA dodged playing previously-unbeaten Indiana in the finals because Kentucky had knocked them out the week before.  The Bruins’ semifinal game was an overtime one-point victory over Louisville, and the UK game was a relatively close affair as well.  Did HCA help?  Maybe a little bit, but it’s difficult to state definitively that any UCLA team of this era wouldn’t have won wherever they played the games.
  • 1974 – NC State (@ Greensboro) – 80 miles.  This NC State team led by David Thompson was really, really good, but make no mistake, UCLA in the semis and Marquette in the finals were playing road games.  There was a serious pride of basketball in the ACC at that time and they were intent on showing how good their league was by packing the house with NC State partisans and cheering the Wolfpack home to victory.  NCSU was good enough to win those games without fan support, but old-timers still like to talk about how great their local support was there.
  • 1972 – UCLA (@ Los Angeles) - 10 miles.  It doesn’t get much more home than sleeping in your own bed and playing in your home city, and even though LA is a really big place, UCLA had a serious advantage this year.  The problem with attributing HCA to the victory is that the Bruins were the five-time defending champs and in the midst of an 88-game winning streak at the time.  They likely could have played this game in semifinalist Louisville and runner-up Florida State’s buildings and still won the games.
  • 1969 – Purdue (@ Louisville) – 180 miles.  This is a tenuous HCA as Purdue is located a solid three-hour drive from Louisville, and they destroyed UNC in the semifinal round anyway.  But like mentioned above, UCLA simply wasn’t going to be beaten in this era even if the games were being played in West Lafayette. 
  • 1968 – UCLA (@ Los Angeles) - 10 miles.  Alcindor, Allen, Shackleford… enough said.  UCLA blew out Houston in the Game of the Century rematch and followed that up with a pasting of UNC to win it all.  HCA was irrelevant with this team.
  • 1967 – Dayton (@ Louisville) – 150 miles.  Dayton was a Cinderella in getting to the Final Four this year, having had to win an opening round game over Western Kentucky to advance, and the Flyers eventually made the championship game before running into none other than that same group led by Alcindor, et al., whom they were never going to beat.  There’s a possibility that a mild HCA effect helped UD get past North Carolina in the semifinals, though.
  • 1964 – Kansas State (@ Kansas City) - 115 miles.  There didn’t appear to be any HCA help here as K-State fell in the semifinals to UCLA en route to John Wooden’s first national championship. 
  • 1963 – Cincinnati (@ Louisville) – 100 miles.  From 1959-63, Cincinnati went to the Final Four five consecutive times.  Twice — 1961 and 1962 — they won the national championship.  In this particular year, the Bearcats destroyed an overmatched Oregon State team in the semis before losing in OT in the finals to Loyola (Chicago).  We’re not sure that HCA could have helped them any more than it already did.
  • 1962 – Cincinnati (@ Louisville) – 100 miles.  As mentioned above, the Bearcats won their second straight title this year, and HCA may have helped a little with respect to the semifinal game against UCLA that UC won by two points. 
  • 1960 – California (@ San Francisco) – 14 miles.  Cal was the local team and the defending national champs, but they’d experienced some injuries to key personnel and were blown out by Jerry Lucas’ Ohio State Buckeyes in the final game.  It’s possible that the semifinal game against Oscar Robertson could have in part been explained by HCA, but the Big O never led his team to a championship while in Cincinnati. 

Conclusion

After carefully reviewing all of these instances of a team playing the Final Four close to home, we’re falling on the side of a very mild HCA impact.  In the majority of cases, the teams that are playing at home are going to win or lose their game(s) regardless of where they’re played.  Many of the above situations involving the UCLA dynasty were exactly such situations.  Whether the Bruins played in Pauley Pavilion, Louisville or France was irrelevant — they had the better players and the better team.  In a minority of situations where the two teams are fairly evenly matched — such as last year’s Michigan State-UConn game or Duke-Florida in 1994 — we think that the home team has a small advantage.  This could come into play this weekend as many people believe that Butler and Michigan State are an even matchup (Vegas has the Bulldogs favored by one point).  There are also a couple of situations (1988 and 1974 in particular) where we believe a home team that is backed by a rabid following in a basketball hotbed has even a better chance than the norm.  The problem with this analysis with respect to Butler is that even though they’re the home team and all unaffiliated fans will root for them, the Bulldogs still aren’t IU or Purdue in this area.  Put one of those two teams into this same situation and suddenly we might have a home-team lightning-in-the-bottle scenario again.  Does Butler have the same kind of rabid basketball following to make this a pit for Michigan State and the others?  We don’t think they do, but we’d happily take our medicine if we end up being wrong.       

rtmsf (3720 Posts)


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2 Responses to “Does Home Court at the Final Four Help?”

  1. I can’t see the advantage being anything more than slight. There are probably more Notre Dame or Indiana or Purdue fans (each counted separately, not combined) in Indianapolis (not to mention the state itself) than Butler has. Plus, it’s being played in a giant football stadium. I think Kyle Whelliston of the Mid-Majority described it best, “I know the home advantage is going to be played up a lot this week, but once we all step into Sports Bubble Stadium (Lucas Oil Stadium), nobody will know where on earth we are. The games might as well be played on the moon. These stadium setups with the raised floors are so otherworldly… you hear an echo of a cheer every once in a while, but it’s not basketball as we knew it before a few weeks ago.”

  2. rtmsf says:

    Yeah, in the two situations where it appeared to us there was a major HCA (74 and 88), those were traditional bball arenas where the fans are right on top of you. In the football stadiums, it’s just not the same environment.

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