NCAA Basketball Geography

Posted by on January 31, 2014

Regionalism is at the heart of NCAA basketball. For one, it’s very difficult to watch 351 teams regularly. Certain states are associated with college basketball. Louisville, Indiana, and North Carolina have their respective powerhouses. California, Texas, and New York lead the way in terms of quantity of D1 teams.
I channeled my inner Nate Silver to look at the college basketball landscape both this year and the past five years. I took a look at win percentage, tempo, and home-court advantage around the country.
1. Win Percentage
I decided to look at win percentage first instead of tempo-free ranks to help level the playing field for mid majors. The problem with looking at college basketball by states is that some states are watered-down by smaller schools. Simply using win percentage helps the mid majors, because it doesn’t take into account strength of schedule. I think that conference rank should (and does) ultimately play a big role in determining quality of basketball in each state. Take a look at the maps below (click to enlarge):
Win Percentage
Kansas has dominated the last five years (including 2014) of basketball behind three strong teams: Kansas, Kansas State, and Wichita State. Obviously only having three teams gives Kansas an advantage. Bill Self’s team account for one-third of the win percentage. Consider North Carolina, a state with 18 D1 teams. Duke and UNC don’t overcome schools like North Carolina A&T and Campbell. Still, Kansas deserves its number one ranking with Wichita State coming off a Final Four and a healthy Kansas State program.
The two New Mexico schools have also produced strong teams over the past five years. Interestingly, the coasts appear to be struggling this year compared to the middle of the country. Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma are all having strong 2014 seasons relative to the past five years.
2. Tempo
Recruits and fans both like seeing points put on the board. I think that makes this look at tempo by state particularly relevant. Take a look at the maps below (click to enlarge):
Maine and Wyoming both only have one D1 basketball school and are the fastest and slowest paced states respectively. There’s a lot of blue on the east coast, which should be no surprise to ACC followers. Miami and Clemson are among the five slowest teams in the country. If you want high tempo, the Louisiana/Oklahoma/Arkansas area is for you this season.
It’s interesting to see states that have really sped up or slowed down relative to the last five years. Nebraska and Iowa fall into the former category (speeding up) while Washington and Nevada fall into the latter (slowing down). Nevada and UNLV both rank outside the top 100 in possessions per game for the first time since 2009.
3. Home-Court Advantage
It’s not so easy to quantify home-court advantage. For this analysis, I took the difference between each team’s performance at home and performance on the road (adjusted for competition). You could definitely argue that this is a measure of ability to win on the road just as much as home-court advantage. However, I think this is a reasonable attempt to find the toughest places to play:
Home-Court Advantage
Only the five year map is shown due to sample size. Also, the color scale was changed to white to red here for a reason. There’s not a single team in the country that doesn’t have a home-court advantage. Some states aren’t as red as others, but no state is in the blue.
I can understand why teams might not mind traveling to warm cities in California and Nevada, but the Northeast also has had a weaker home-court advantage over the last five years. We know that elevation gives schools like Denver and Utah a tremendous home-court advantage, but Arkansas still manages to top them as the hardest state to play in. Mike Anderson’s squad is a completely different team in Bud Walton Arena.
Cameron Indoor has had the best home-court advantage of the North Carolina schools and ranks 17th in the country. Other notable national school ranks: Kentucky (7), Wisconsin (21), Kansas (37), Utah State (65), Indiana (175), and Louisville (221).

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