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Home Court Advantage in the NCAA Tournament: Who’s Playing Close to Home?

Beginning with Selection Sunday, you have been flooded with nonstop analysis, predictions, previews, expert picks, and more regarding the 2011 NCAA Tournament.  All that information will continue to flood your mind through Thursday afternoon, but there is one topic you may not hear much about in the days leading up to the tournament: home court advantage. That’s because NCAA Tournament games are played at neutral sites, right?  Not exactly. 

Part of the selection committee’s job is to make it so teams that earn higher seeds have to travel less over the course of the tournament.  Obviously, it’s impossible to make life easy on all of the top seeds, but you’d be surprised just how close to home some teams will be playing.  Here are some teams that could enjoy a home-court advantage boost when the tournament begins:

Ohio State: The Buckeyes would play their first two games in Cleveland, Ohio — about 140 miles from their campus in Columbus.  That distance will be easy for their fans to travel, not to mention there are hardcore Ohio State fans all over the state of Ohio.  If the Buckeyes reach the Sweet 16/Elite 8, those games would be played in Newark, N.J., which is 500 miles from Columbus but not an unreasonable flying distance for those who want to go.

North Carolina: Sticking with the East region, the Tar Heels would also be playing their first two games in their home state, as they drew Charlotte, N.C. for the first and second rounds.  Charlotte is about 140 miles from UNC’s campus in Chapel Hill.  If the Tar Heels advance to Newark, fans would be looking at a 500-mile trek, which is again doable given the situation.

Duke: Moving on to the West region, Duke has been given a similar situation to UNC as they also have a chance to play two games in Charlotte — 140 miles away from their campus in Durham.  Their home court advantage would end when the Sweet 16 begins, as the Blue Devils would be traveling all the way to Anaheim.

Texas: The Longhorns are a team with a chance to compete for a national championship in front of their home fans if they can advance to the Final Four.  Their first two games would be in Tulsa, Okla., and while it’s about a 450-mile drive from their campus in Austin I’d be willing to bet there are plenty of Longhorn fans in the area.  Texas would then have to travel to Anaheim for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, but if they advance to the Final Four in Houston the crowd should be on their side.  Austin and Houston are about 160 miles apart, and there are Longhorn fans all over the state of Texas.

San Diego State:  The Aztecs are another team out of the West region with a chance to play a lot of games close to home.  Their first two games are slated for Tucson, Ariz., which is 400 miles from San Diego.  I’m sure cheap flight packages could be arranged.  If SDSU gets through the first two rounds, they’d be heading to Anaheim for the Sweet 16/Elite 8 — under 100 miles from San Diego.  The Aztecs would be well-represented if they got that far, especially if they played a team like UConn who’s fans are on the complete opposite side of the country.

Kansas: Onto the Southwest region, where the Jayhawks open the tournament a solid 220 miles from their campus, but would travel to San Antonio, Tex. for the Sweet 16/Elite 8 and on to Houston for the Final Four.  Whether the fans make the trip to a lot of those games or not, there are plenty of teams that would have to travel a lot further over the course of the next few weeks.  As far as plane travel is concerned, the Jayhawks got a very favorable draw.

Notre Dame: In the Southeast, the Fighting Irish open the tournament in Chicago — under 100 miles from their campus in South Bend, Ind.  That should give them an early boost, but the party ends there as they would be traveling to Texas for the remainder of the tournament.

*** Worst Draw of the Contenders – UConn:  A lot of teams will be doing plenty of traveling if they win a few games over the next couple weeks, but it would be tough to imagine a team having to do more than UConn.  Aside from the fact that they won five games in five days to win the Big East Tournament, the Huskies would be doing a ton of flying if they were to advance to the Final Four.  Between Washington, D.C., Anaheim, and Houston, UConn would have to cover about 4,500 miles — not including any return trips to campus — if they want to win their third national championship.



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