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The Close to Home Advantage in the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Andrew McKillop on March 7, 2011

It’s difficult winning the NCAA Tournament.  A team must defeat six or even seven different teams to win the tournament.   This is why analysts dig deep and look for any advantages schools might have.  One of the most publicized advantages in the NCAA Tournament is when a school plays a tournament game close to home.  But how much of an advantage is it really to play a tournament game close to home?  I heard an analyst recently say that it’s better to play close to home as a #2 seed, than play far from home as a #1 seed.  Is it really that much of an advantage to play close to home?

Since the first tournament back in 1940, teams that have won tournament games were playing on average 71.69 miles closer to home, than their opponent.  That figure would show that there is a slight advantage to playing closer to home in the tournament.  But it might also indicate that more favored teams (top seeds) get placed in brackets closer to home.

So I decided to breakdown the advantage by seed ranking.

Note: The NCAA started seeding teams in 1979.

Seed Type of Game W L W Pct. Difference
#1 Seed Closest to Home 274 68 0.801 4.83%
#1 Seed Furthest from Home 131 43 0.753
#2 Seed Closest to Home 179 65 0.734 7.29%
#2 Seed Furthest from Home 111 57 0.661
#3 Seed Closest to Home 109 58 0.653 3.64%
#3 Seed Furthest from Home 106 66 0.616
#4 Seed Closest to Home 86 54 0.614 7.05%
#4 Seed Furthest from Home 87 73 0.544
#5 Seed Closest to Home 83 56 0.597 11.49%
#5 Seed Furthest from Home 68 73 0.482
#6 Seed Closest to Home 79 56 0.585 3.97%
#6 Seed Furthest from Home 84 70 0.545
#7 Seed Closest to Home 56 48 0.538 15.38%
#7 Seed Furthest from Home 50 80 0.385
#8 Seed Closest to Home 39 45 0.464 7.17%
#8 Seed Furthest from Home 53 82 0.393
#9 Seed Closest to Home 42 50 0.457 16.82%
#9 Seed Furthest from Home 32 79 0.288
#10 Seed Closest to Home 42 57 0.424 5.26%
#10 Seed Furthest from Home 42 71 0.372
#11 Seed Closest to Home 26 63 0.292 -4.83%
#11 Seed Furthest from Home 32 62 0.340
#12 Seed Closest to Home 34 54 0.386 10.20%
#12 Seed Furthest from Home 31 78 0.284
#13 Seed Closest to Home 15 52 0.224 4.93%
#13 Seed Furthest from Home 11 52 0.175
#14 Seed Closest to Home 8 51 0.136 -2.31%
#14 Seed Furthest from Home 10 53 0.159
#15 Seed Closest to Home 3 40 0.070 5.44%
#15 Seed Regular Record 1 64 0.015

 

*- A #16 seed has never won an NCAA Tournament game, therefore I didn’t include #16 seeds in the study.  However the team closest to home in the play-in game is 6-4.

 

As you can see every seed ranking but two (#11, #14), all show an advantage to the team playing closer to home.  It’s clear that there is an advantage to playing a tournament game closer to home.  Now I’m interested in determining how much of an advantage it can be.

Listed below is a chart breaking down the mile advantage teams had in tournament games, and how they fared with such an advantage.

Advantage by Miles W L W Pct.
2000+ Mile Difference 22 10 0.688
1500-1999 Mile Difference 84 56 0.600
1000-1499 Mile Difference 160 111 0.590
750-999 Mile Difference 92 107 0.462
500-749 Mile Difference 233 160 0.593
250-499 Mile Difference 416 335 0.554
100-249 Mile Difference 297 281 0.514
50-99 Mile Difference 125 103 0.548
0-49 Mile Difference 124 109 0.532

 

For the most part the greater the mile advantage, the greater advantage of winning.  Although it’s an anomaly that teams with a 500-749 mile advantage, actually have a losing record.

In conclusion I feel confident in saying that teams do get an advantage from playing a tournament game close to home.

 

How Data Was Compiled:

Using the NCAA Tournament Database provided by HoopsTournament.com, and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names National File, I matched up the provided city names, with their geographic coordinates.  From there I used the following Microsoft Excel formula to calculate the distance between the coordinates.


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