Two weeks ago, the NCAA voted and approved a Nov. 25 start date for college basketball. Now, every team may not play on that date, but it’s when the first games can happen. Each individual conference is now putting together a conference schedule, including how many games will come before the turn of the new year. Non-conference schedules are still up in the air, and several non-conference tournaments, such as the Battle 4 Atlantis and the Maui Invitational, are moving to new locations that are more convenient geographically for the participants.
Sources: The 2020 Battle 4 Atlantis will be played at the Sanford Pentagon in South Dakota. Dates are TBD.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) September 14, 2020
Field includes Duke, West Virginia, Memphis, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Utah, Creighton, and Wichita State.
There has yet to be an announcement regarding fans, but much like college football, it will probably be handled within each conference, rather than one blanket rule for all programs. Most college football programs are allowing at least some fans in the stadium, but others are moving forward with no fans at all. Also important to remember: football is played outdoors, so there is open air for people’s breath/particles to disperse, whereas a basketball arena is (obviously) indoors.
I do not expect there to be any fans in attendance at Big Ten basketball games this year. The fact that the NCAA is moving early to establish dates to play, and the conferences are already working on schedules is promising, especially considering that the start date is still two months away. But there is more risk involved for a basketball team playing during a pandemic than there is for a football team.
The biggest concern to me is the obvious fact that a college basketball team will only field 12-15 players. COVID-19 is highly contagious, and if one player tests positive, you could quickly be looking at half of a team also testing positive and needing to sit out for 1-2 weeks.
If that risk exists, why even take the chance? Do season ticket holders really need to be there to watch the games inside of an indoor arena, where people’s coughs, shouts, and sneezes have less of a chance to dissipate, but a better chance to impact the coaches and athletes? If you don’t want to see the Buckeyes play with an 8-man squad for two weeks straight in January, maybe we should just skip on the crowds for one year.
The Big Ten conference is home to some of the most daunting, deafening, and aggressive home venues in the nation, with some of the loudest and most savage student sections college basketball has to offer. The last few years in particular have been especially tough on Big Ten road teams, with last year hitting a low point. During the 2019-2020 basketball season, road teams in the B1G went 45-95, which is a 32.1% winning percentage.
Without a doubt, playing on the road makes visiting teams uncomfortable. The benches aren’t always in the same spot, sometimes the visiting locker rooms are tiny, and the student sections are often seated directly behind the visiting team’s bench. Fans in the arena know that when the visiting team has the ball, their job is to be as loud as humanly possible, but to quiet down when their team gets the ball back.
All of these things together create an extremely difficult environment for a visiting team to waltz in and expect to execute their game plan. Some arenas even have alterations to the actual court that visiting teams have to adjust to. One example of this is the floor of “The Barn” at the University of Minnesota, where the edge of the court actually drops down over a foot, like a stage. If someone plans on diving out of bounds to save a loose ball, they better anticipate a short fall right afer.
But if there are no fans in the seats next season, how much of that home team edge will be neutralized? Some of the aforementioned advantages, like student sections and the general roar of the crowd, will be gone. Noise could be piped in over the PA, much like they’re doing in professional sports leagues, but the real environment of college basketball can’t be simulated with fake noise.
So which teams will be hurt the most by losing fans? Which teams have the best recent home record, and therefore could stumble a bit without being able to thrust the full experience of their home arena at their opponent? I took a look at each B1G team’s home record over the past three seasons in order to guess who may miss that “home court advantage” the most this year.
1) Michigan State Spartans
Home record from 2017-2020: 43-5
Michigan State has lost in the Breslin Center five times in the past three years combined, in no small part because of the Izzone. The student section, named after longtime coach Tom Izzo, takes up the first 10-12 rows all the way around the court, so there’s not really any way to escape them. The Izzone is like a band of flies you just cannot swat away.
I’m sure it also helps that MSU consistently pulls in five-star recruits and competes for Final Fours year in and year out, so they win at home and on the road anyway.
2) Purdue Boilermakers
Home record from 2017-2020: 42-6
If it hadn’t been for Purdue’s losing five home games last season, Mackey Arena may be listed No. 1 here as the toughest venue to play in. From 2017-2019, Purdue went 31-1 (!!) at home. The lone loss? A 64-63 heartbreaker to Ohio State, where B1G Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop tipped in a missed layup with one second to go. During the season, Mackey Arena is so loud you cannot hear yourself think. Not having fans in the seats would severely diminish Purdue’s advantage there.
3) Maryland Terrapins
Home record from 2017-2020: 46-7
Maryland’s student section, located behind each basket, stretches up 30+ rows on each side, creating a deafening wall of 20-something’s each time a visiting team brings the ball up. The atmosphere and intensity of a Maryland home game did not drop off at all when they jumped from the ACC to the Big Ten, and it remains one of the hardest places to play when the Xfinity Center is rocking.
4) Michigan Wolverines
Home record from 2017-2020: 43-7
Michigan was actually one of the worst teams at home last year in the Big Ten. Their five losses at the Crisler Center was topped only by Nebraska and Northwestern, who each lost 11 home games. Prior to last season, Michigan was nearly unbeatable at home, losing just once there in each of the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The Maize Rage is also known to be one of the rowdier and more aggressive student sections in the conference, so their absence certainly would not disappoint visiting teams.
5) Ohio State Buckeyes
Home record from 2017-2020: 44-10
While the Schottenstein Center has been critiqued quite a bit over the past several years as a poor environment for college basketball, the numbers do not lie. The Buckeyes have been one of the best home teams in the B1G the past few years, winning just over 80% of their home games since 2017. The Buckeye NutHouse sits less than two feet behind the visitor’s bench, and from personal experience I can vouch that they make visiting teams quite uncomfortable. Their absence would be missed.
6) Wisconsin Badgers
Home record from 2017-2020: 38-11
Wisconsin has gone 27-4 at home the last two seasons, and a trusted source tells me that the engineers at the Kohl Center intentionally make the arena much colder during basketball games to make visiting teams uncomfortable. So even with no fans in the arena, the Badgers should still have an edge in the “cold” center.
7) Iowa Hawkeyes
Home record from 2017-2020: 37-12
First of all, any fan base that can pull off color coordination in the stands like that is elite in my eyes. Second, Iowa has gone a combined 28-6 the previous two seasons, which means that 82% of the visiting teams that walk into Carver-Hawkeye Arena are leaving with a loss. The bowl-shape makes it even more intimidating, as the crowd really seems to be on top of you from all sides. It certainly will not be the same with no fans.
8) Penn State Nittany Lions
Home record from 2017-2020: 38-13
When I watch Penn State basketball games I’m always amazed at how few fans there are and how small their student section is. Even during seasons when the Nittany Lions are good, they don’t seem to pull too many fans into the Bryce Jordan Center. So if there are no fans there, will it really seem that different?
9) Indiana Hoosiers
Home record from 2017-2020: 42-16
Indiana has been very good at home the past two seasons, going a combined 30-10 inside Assembly Hall. This arena has played host to some classics, including Ohio State’s double-overtime buzzer beating win in 2018. When Assembly Hall gets rocking it can get loud, hot, and uncomfortable, which causes visiting teams to struggle communicating to their bench and with each other. Playing inside an empty Assembly Hall would be odd, to say the least.
10) Minnesota Golden Gophers
Home record from 2017-2020: 35-14
As I mentioned above, the unique features of “The Barn” forces teams to adjust when they travel to Minneapolis. The elevated court and the cavernous size of the arena are unique, but Minnesota has never been a dominant team at home, or someone you really fear going on the road to play, even with fans.
11) Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Home record from 2017-2020: 41-17
Was there a more challenging place to play last year than the RAC? Rutgers won their first 18 home games last year before falling to Michigan at the very end of the season. Rutgers would really miss having fans in the seats if they can’t this season, as they’re riding high from last year’s hot streak. The once-cellar-dwelling Scarlet Knights cooked up enough home court magic to earn an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time in 29 years. Or they would have been invited, if there was a tournament.
12) Illinois Fighting Illini
Home record from 2017-2020: 36-15
Illinois went 15-3 inside the State Farm Center last season, and the only reason they’re so far down on this is because of how painfully average Illinois was in the two years prior. Brad Underwood will return a ton of talent this season, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Fighting Illini make a run at a Big Ten title. Not having their home fans or the “Orange Krush” student section will hurt, no doubt.
13) Nebraska Cornhuskers
Home record from 2017-2020: 34-17
Pinnacle Bank Arena, better known as “The Vault” in Lincoln, gave the Huskers a huge home court advantage in 2017 when Tim Miles was still head coach. They went 15-1 at home that year, as “The Vault” locked up opposing teams each and every night. Last year with Nebraska being as bad as they were, home court advantage was only able to help so much. I expect much of the same this season.
14) Northwestern Wildcats
Home record from 2017-2020: 26-25
Northwestern recently renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena so that it wouldn’t look so archaic, but they were terrible last year, going 8-23 overall and 5-11 at home. Northwestern is going to stink again this year, fans or no fans.