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By the numbers: Which B1G basketball teams missed their fans the most last season?

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Some college basketball venues are more daunting than others. Which teams saw their home records suffer with no fans in the house?

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

When the NCAA officially stamped Nov. 25 as the starting date for college basketball last season, I wrote a piece predicting which teams — based off recent home record — would be at the biggest disadvantage with no fans in the stands.

As we saw, Big Ten basketball was played with no fans in attendance last season. Shouting, cursing, shoes scuffing, and the ball bouncing on the hardwood echoed throughout some of the nation’s most historic basketball venues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re lucky there was basketball at all, but watching it without a single fan in the stands felt like we were in the twilight zone.

Some venues are less comfortable for visiting teams to play in, naturally. Be it the placement of the student section, the position of the benches, or the size of the arena, some road arenas are just a real pain in the butt to go play at as a visitor. In my interview with Joey Lane a few weeks ago, he named Purdue’s Mackey Arena as the toughest place he played at (in the Big Ten).

Using each team’s home record from the previous three seasons, I ranked every Big Ten team on how much losing fans would likely impact them. Michigan State was No. 1, as they had the best home record over the past few seasons. Northwestern was last, because they pretty much win and lose at the same rate, even when playing in their home arena.

Today, I revisited every team’s home record from the 2020-2021 season and compared it to two seasons ago, when fans were in attendance. I took the winning percentage at home two seasons ago and subtracted it from this past season’s, and ranked the teams from worst (biggest impact) to best (smallest impact). What I learned was that half the conference actually performed better at home with no fans in attendance. While this was certainly interesting, my calculations aren’t an exact science.

There are plenty of variables we need to account for, mainly roster changes. Most of these teams saw at least minor roster changes from the previous season, some had massive roster turnover, and a few barely changed. Therefore, this piece cannot solely explain why some teams played better or worse with no fans. But I’m certain it played a part.

Were my predictions last October correct? No, not really. Here’s how it played out in real life:


1) Maryland Terrapins

2019-2020 home record: 16-1
2020-2021 home record: 11-6
Difference: -.294%

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Maryland Terrapins lost two key contributors before this season began in Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith, but the Xfinity Center is also one of the most daunting places to play in the Big Ten. The student section is especially impactful, as it goes 20-30 rows deep behind each basket at a very steep incline — almost like it’s just one big wall of students.

Those students weren’t there last season, and the Terrapins suffered because of it.


2) Indiana Hoosiers

2019-2020 home record: 15-4
2020-2021 home record: 6-6
Difference: -.289%

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Assembly Hall is another historic arena in the Big Ten Conference, one that certainly is more of a bear to play at when it’s jam packed with all 17,222 people. Not having fans definitely hurt the Hoosiers last season, but they were also just a very mediocre team in general. So mediocre (again), that Archie Miller was let go at the end of the season.


3) Wisconsin Badgers

2019-2020 home record: 15-1
2020-2021 home record: 11-5
Difference: -.250%

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin returned most of their team from 2019-2020, but they did not return their ability to hit a jump shot. The Badgers were atrocious shooting the basketball, which is something you generally need to do to win games. Not having fans in the always-freezing cold Kohl Center probably hurt them, too.


4) Penn State Nittany Lions

2019-2020 home record: 14-3
2020-2021 home record: 7-5
Difference: -.240%

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State dealt with a pretty lengthy COVID-19 outbreak during the season, which may have cost them some home games and therefore impacted how the numbers shook out here. But generally the Bryce Jordan Center stinks and is rarely half full, so this one is a bit of a head scratcher.


5) Rutgers Scarlet Knights

2019-2020 home record: 18-1
2020-2021 home record: 10-4
Difference: -.233%

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

This makes sense. Rutgers set a school record for home wins during one season two years ago, and the RAC has proven to be a pretty tough place to play when it’s at capacity (8,000). The RAC just wasn’t rocking the same last season with no fans, and Rutgers wasn’t nearly as stout defending their home court.


6) Ohio State Buckeyes

2019-2020 home record: 16-2
2020-2021 home record: 10-4
Difference: -.100%

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Now this one is comical, because even Ohio State fans agree that the Schott is one of the least intimidating places to play a road game. The cavernous 20-year old building is also designed for concerts, so making it loud, sweaty, and uncomfortable is nearly impossible. When you look at the numbers, the Buckeyes’ home record didn’t change all that much from 2019 to 2020, which seems about right for what the crowd typically brings.


7) Michigan State Spartans (tie)

2019-2020 home record: 12-3
2020-2021 home record: 12-3
Difference: —

Michigan State had the exact same record without fans as they did with fans the previous year, which is odd considering they were the best home team in the B1G over the past 4-5 years. It could have something to do with an easier nonconference games early in the season, or the fact that MSU was awful playing on the road (3-8) last year and had to make those up at home.


7) Iowa Hawkeyes (tie)

2019-2020 home record: 14-2
2020-2021 home record: 14-2
Difference: —

Iowa also had the same record last season as they did in 2019, but Carver-Hawkeye Arena isn’t one of the most daunting road venues, so this isn’t too terribly shocking. The Hawkeyes have also had great teams the last two seasons (Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, etc.), so the absence of fans may not have been enough to alter their performance.


9) Illinois Fighting Illini

2019-2020 home record: 15-3
2020-2021 home record: 11-2
Difference: +.012%

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The fighting Illini actually played better with no fans, but to call it an improvement would be splitting hairs. Had they played the full 18 home games they played the previous season it may have produced the same result.


10) Minnesota Golden Gophers

2019-2020 home record: 11-5
2020-2021 home record: 13-4
Difference: +.077%

Minnesota won their first nine home games last season, which was an impressive stretch for a team that was completely incapable of winning a road game last season. Yes, they literally went 0-10 on the road somehow, even with no fans in the seats.


11) Nebraska Cornhuskers

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

2019-2020 home record: 5-11
2020-2021 home record: 6-9
Difference: +.087%

Don’t let the numbers fool you, Nebraska is still very bad. And Pinnacle Bank Arena is actually a pretty tough place to play, despite what the numbers above say. Until Nebraska can field a competent basketball team I think their numbers can be taken with a grain of salt. Next!


12) Northwestern Wildcats

2019-2020 home record: 5-11
2020-2021 home record: 7-6
Difference: +.225%

Northwestern actually started the season on a roll, going 6-1 in their first seven games before the wheels completely fell off and they finished 3-14. Most of those early games were home matchups, which is how they somehow finished above .500 on their home floor last season.


13) Purdue Boilermakers

2019-2020 home record: 11-5
2020-2021 home record: 11-1
Difference: +.229%

This is another odd one that can most be explained by Purdue’s improvement (talent-wise) from 2019 to 2020. Had they been given more home games, they would’ve blown their 2019 home record straight out of the water. With their top eight scorers returning next season, Purdue will have a real shot at an undefeated home record.


14) Michigan Wolverines

2019-2020 home record: 11-5
2020-2021 home record: 13-1
Difference: -+.2410

Michigan was a much better all-around team last season than they were two years ago. Fans or no fans, it didn’t matter. They spent much of the season in the top 10 of the AP Poll, and they won games if the seats were filled, empty, or had cardboard cutouts in them. It just didn’t matter.