But before we get to that, let’s start with the elephant in the room: Kansas, and more specifically Allen Fieldhouse, is ranked 31st — and also sixth in the Big 12.
“I think if you’re a KU fan, you’re probably doubting that,” Pomeroy said. “Every fan probably thinks I’m rating them too low except for the top teams.”
So let’s start here: Pomeroy admits ranking teams 1-351 in home-court advantage is mostly done for “conversational fodder.” When studying home-court advantage — 3.5 points is average and KU is at 3.9 — the margin of error is within a point. That means to be safer, it’d be best to use tiers, assuming that the top 100 have good home-court advantages while the bottom 100 do not.
“There is a ton of noise in these predictions,” Pomeroy said, “and you definitely should not take the rankings too literally.”
Having said that, what Pomeroy learned about home-court advantage is probably the most interesting part of this exercise. And one of the major findings is past HCA didn’t best determine future HCA; instead, it was home foul difference.
This seems to back up a basic point also made in the book Scorecasting: One of the largest parts of home-court advantage in college basketball comes from officiating.
Pomeroy found some other areas made an impact as well. Elevation is most important, as home teams have a distinct advantage compared to their tired counterparts. Home scoring advantage, non-steal turnovers and blocks also helped to predict which teams had the best HCAs.
KU ranked well in two of these categories — home scoring advantage (14th) and home foul differential (33rd) — while lagging behind in non-steal turnovers (113th) and blocks (163rd). And KU doesn’t get any help from elevation, either.
“That’s why they end up not being super-duper high overall,” Pomeroy said.
Something to note: Pomeroy based each team’s numbers on their last 50 home and road conference games (roughly six seasons for Big 12 members), trying to hit a sweet spot to get enough data while also minimizing the number of teams that had played in different buildings over that time.
There are plenty of caveats. Pomeroy said representing home-court advantage as a points per game number is great for fan understanding, but it might not be the perfect measure to use. Take Gonzaga as an example. Though the team’s “Kennel Club” is considered one of the best cheering sections in the nation, the Bulldogs rank 224th in home-court advantage.
So what’s going on? Pomeroy thinks this could be attributed to Gonzaga blowing out so many of its conference opponents. When you’re winning each game by 30 points, does home-court advantage have an opportunity to show up in the numbers? And could officials perhaps even feel sorry for opponents that are losing badly, giving sympathy calls late in games?
One could see KU getting dinged for the same reason, as it won 10 of 15 home games last season by double figures — contests where home-court advantage likely didn’t influence the final outcome.
And again, it’s important to note that Pomeroy was actually pleased to see KU ranked 31st when his computer revealed the final numbers. That’s well within the range of error that would put the Jayhawks as among the nation’s best.
“If we had perfect knowledge, would (KU) be first? I doubt it, because I do think elevation’s very important,” Pomeroy said. “I think it’s hard for schools not at elevation to have the same kind of home-court advantage that schools at elevation do.”
It brings up another intriguing subplot if one wants to continue down the rabbit hole.
The No. 1 non-elevation home-court advantage in the nation, according to Pomeroy’s rankings, is … Iowa State. Oklahoma State is fourth, while Kansas State is 11th.
Part of this is a credit to the Big 12, which Pomeroy says has the best home-court advantage of any conference. But it also brings up a philsophical question C.J. Moore and I discussed on our latest episode of the SportsBeat KC podcast.
Iowa State and Kansas State’s fan bases both have the reputation of being boo-heavy, focusing much of their attention on officiating. Could that be the most effective way for fans to influence the game, based on the knowledge that officiating determines much of home-court advantage?
I asked Pomeroy, who also wondered about the psychology of cheering. Could criticizing officials too much backfire, causing calls against the home team? Is enthusiastic support the best way, simply with the hope that officials subconsciously make calls to help those fans?
“That’s a question that’s definitely beyond any education I’ve ever had,” Pomeroy said. “So I don’t have the answer to that. But it is interesting.”
Pomeroy is more convinced of this: KU fans probably overestimate home-court advantage at Allen Fieldhouse, since the team’s success is more likely attributed to how good the Jayhawks’ players (and coach) have been.
Having said that, do Drake (30th) and Lousiana Tech (32nd) likely have similar home-court advantages to KU?
Pomeroy says probably not.
“It does give you a feel,” Pomeroy said, “for how much noise is involved.”