Dorothy has to click her heels three times and chant her “There’s no place like home” mantra in order to activate the magic of home. For Chris Holtmann’s Ohio State Buckeye basketball team, apparently all they have to do is walk onto their home court, and the magic happens. 10-0 at home. There really is no place like home – even if your home is the mouthful “Value City Arena at the Schottenstein Center.”
That extraordinary success makes those four cancellations/postponements all the more important because they were all home games: Tennessee Martin (12/21), University of New Orleans (12/28), Nebraska (1/22), and Iowa (2/3). I’m thinking that they all would have been wins. It’s good that Nebraska has now been rescheduled, the hapless Cornhuskers coming to Columbus on March 1. Maybe the Iowa game also will return to the schedule. But the schedule is already pretty tight with not much time left before the tournaments.
What makes the home court so appealing? College basketball always has given an edge to the home team. The relatively intimate setting (compared to outdoor football stadiums), the supporting noise of the home crowd, the familiarity of the venue all provide advantages. And then there’s the difficulty of travel – often mid-week and, in the B1G, at least, the constant threat of bad winter weather. Distractions for the visitors.
There are other differences, too, between the home floor and the alien court at another university. We hear talk about difference in rim tension, in the give of the wooden floor, or about “dead” spots. Real or fiction, these oddities play head games on the visitors. I remember playing junior high basketball in Chicago (a long, long time ago), and one of the floors that we played on had a spiral staircase that occupied a good chunk of one of the corners of the court and led down to a basement, or boiler room, or something. A school custodian was posted in front of the staircase to shove us back on the floor if we got too close. To keep us from taking the tumble. Talk about a distraction.
Coaches don’t like distractions. Remember the scene in the 1986 classic basketball film “Hoosiers,” where Gene Hackman has his small-town players measure the height of the basket in massive Hinkle Fieldhouse? His players are in awe as they gaze at the stands, the space in the Butler home arena. He wants to assure them that a court is just a court. The basket may still be ten feet off the floor, but it doesn’t seem like it when you launch a shot. Even without the crowd influence of home games, the venue has its own effect.
Chris Holtmann is now in his fifth season as head coach of the Buckeyes. His seasons have all been winning ones, and in each of them his teams have enjoyed a big advantage at home. In Holtmann’s first campaign, the Bucks went 25-9. They were 16-2 at home, 6-2 on the road, and 3-5 on neutral courts (including the Big Ten and NCAA tournament games). Obviously, one can look at the competition and realize that there are a lot of lesser, non-conference teams who come to Columbus, particularly early in the season, and don’t really have a chance. But the Big Ten games more often than not go to the home team.
The 2018-19 season saw the Buckeyes slip to 20-15. Even so, their home record was an impressive 12-6, while at the opponents’ arenas they were 4-7, 4-2 at a neutral site. The following year (2019-20), the Bucks bounced back and were 15-2 at home, 4-7 away, and 2-1 on neutral courts. (The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of postseason play that year.) Last year, the home edge was a bit less pronounced, as OSU went 10-4 at home and 7-4 on the road. They were also 4-2 on neutral courts.
But none of those years was quite as good as the one that we’re in now. Last Sunday’s solid win over visiting Maryland pushed the home record to 10-0, including that mighty win over then-#1 Duke. Maybe the rims are different. Maybe the court dimensions aren’t really the same. I can see how the crowd helps momentum, helps aggressiveness, especially on defense. But the shooting is the primary difference between Value City/Schottenstein Buckeyes and Buckeyes playing anywhere else.
In their ten home victories this season, the Buckeyes are shooting nearly 51% from the floor – 275 for 542, or 50.73%. From beyond the arc, the Bucks are putting in just over 39% of their shots (86/220). Both are phenomenally good marks. So far, Ohio State has played only two neutral-court contests (tournaments are yet to come!), beating Seton Hall and losing to Florida. The shooting stats for those two games are almost identical to the home-court figures: 50.52% from the floor overall and 39.02% from beyond the three-point line. Why the similarity? I wonder. The neutral court is still unfamiliar. And there’s no arena full of avid fans cheering you on, or opposing ones shouting insults about your mother.
After last night’s heartbreaking loss to Rutgers, the Buckeyes are currently 4-6 in actual away games. And, despite the 3-point success against the Scarlet Knights, the shooting numbers on the road contrast sharply with those at home. The Bucks’ 43.79% (208/475) shooting percentage is almost seven percentage points worse than at home. From long range (even with the 10/18 performance last night), OSU is shooting at a 36.14% (73/202) clip on the road. Again – a significant difference. Maybe it’s the hostile fans rattling the nerves of the shooters. Maybe it’s the pressure of closer games on the road. Most likely it’s a combination of factors. Nevertheless, the home-court advantage is real.
I’d like to see the Buckeyes get the Iowa game back on the schedule. When it comes time to assign seeds for the conference and NCAA tournaments, the cancelled home game wins might make a big difference. And, of course, I’m counting on them as wins because it seems that Schottenstein Center is taking a place alongside Cameron Indoor as a venue that foes would like to avoid. After all, there’s no place like home.