How Does Playing Close to Home Affect Tourney Teams?
by Trevor Whenham - 03/25/2008
A lot is being made this year of the teams that get to play their tournament games in their home state. Davidson scored two big upsets in Raleigh in their home state of North Carolina. The Tar Heels played their first two in Raleigh, and now only have to move down the road to Charlotte for their next two. UCLA won their first two in Anaheim while sleeping in their own beds. Texas plays their next two games in Houston, and would get to play in San Antonio if they made it as far as the Final Four.
All of those teams won, and the popular theory is that the fact that they are playing at home is part of the reason because their fans can travel easily and they are more likely to have supportive local fans. It seems compelling on the surface, but like so many things it seems too good to be true - it's a bit of an easy explanation for a win or a loss. The only way we can really get a sense of the impact of these home-state tournament games is to look back at what has happened in the past when teams play in-state. Here's what has happened in the last five years:
North Carolina, a No. 1 seed, won their first two games in Winston-Salem
Louisville, a No. 6 seed, lost in the second round in Lexington
Texas A&M, a No. 3 seed, lost in the Sweet 16 in San Antonio
UCLA, a No. 2 seed, won its first two games in Sacramento and its next two in San Jose
Duke, a No. 1 seed, won two games in Greensboro
UNC-Wilmington, a No. 9 seed, lost in the first round in Greensboro
Winthrop, a No. 15 seed, lost in Greensboro in the first round (Winthrop is in South Carolina, but it is in a suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina)
Texas, a No. 2 seed, won their first two games in Dallas
Villanova, a No. 1 seed, won their first two games in Philadelphia
UCLA, a No. 2 seed, won their first two games in San Diego, and their next two in Oakland
Florida, a No. 3 seed, won their first two games in Jacksonville
Ohio State, a No. 2 seed, lost in the second round in Dayton
Oklahoma State, a No. 2 seed, won their first two games in Oklahoma City
Illinois, a No. 1 seed, won their third and fourth games in Chicago
North Carolina, a No. 1 seed, won their first two games in Charlotte
Duke, a No. 1 seed, won their first two games in Charlotte
Wake Forest, a No. 4 seed, won their first two games in Raleigh
Wisconsin, a No. 6 seed, lost in the second round in Milwaukee
Duke, a No. 1 seed, won their first two games in Raleigh
Cincinnati, a No. 4 seed, lost in the second round in Columbus
Air Force, a No. 11 seed, lost in the first round in Denver
Oklahoma, a No. 1 seed, won their first two games in Oklahoma City
Texas, a No. 1 seed, won their third and fourth games in San Antonio
Florida, a No. 2 seed, lost in Tampa in the second round
Notre Dame, a No. 5 seed, won twice in Indianapolis
At first glance the home state advantage in the tournament is a big one - teams playing at home have a combined record of 45-9. When you look at it closer, though, you'll see that it isn't quite as overwhelming as it seems. To be meaningful, you need to look at how teams have performed at home compared to how they were supposed to perform. In other words, it's not very interesting if a No. 1 seed wins their first two games in-state, because they were heavily favored to do it regardless of where they played. Similarly, a No. 11 seed that loses their first game in-state proves nothing because they were likely to lose that game anyway. To draw anything meaningful from the data we need to only look at teams that have won where they weren't favored to do so, or lost when they shouldn't have.
When you boil it down to that, the results are far less compelling. Only six in-state games have involved teams that have exceeded or fallen below the expectations of their seed, and they have a record of just 3-3. Davidson won twice this year as a No. 10 and Notre Dame made the Sweet 16 as No. 5 in 2003, while No. 2 seeds Ohio State in 2006 and Florida in 2003, and No. 4 seed Cincinnati in 2004, all lost in the second round.
What does that tell us? Well, it means that the impact of the home state games isn't particularly worth worrying about. For the most part teams win when they should and lose when they should when they are playing in-state. When you are handicapping Texas' next games there are a lot of things to worry about, but where they are playing doesn't seem to need to be one of them.