King's Court: Home sweet home
Jason King [ARCHIVE]
January 16, 2013
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Baylor coach Scott Drew gave up.

A year ago, after the introduction of starting lineups at Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse, Drew huddled the Bears into a tight circle near their bench and attempted to offer a final few words of encouragement. Just as he started to speak, though, a pregame video chronicling KU's rich history began to play on the arena's mammoth four-sided video board.

"Coach's mouth was moving," guard Gary Franklin says, "but we couldn't hear any of the words that were coming out of it. Eventually he just stopped talking and waited."

Franklin pauses. "It was just so loud," he says.

Not that things got any easier during the game. Guard Pierre Jackson still remembers the feeling he experienced on the bench after Kansas' Thomas Robinson soared for a pass above the rim from Tyshawn Taylor. Robinson speared it with one hand and threw it down for an alley-oop dunk.

"The floor," Jackson says, "started shaking."

Allen Fieldhouse and Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium are generally regarded as the two most intimidating environments in college basketball -- and not just because of the noise. Six Division I coaches interviewed this week helped identify the five factors that go into creating a daunting home court.

1. Student seating: Coaches agreed that location of the student section plays the biggest role in creating a strong home-court advantage. It's understandable that almost all schools reserve a large number of their primo seats for wealthy donors. But the rowdiest arenas in the country always hold spots for students near the hardwood or behind the baskets.

"You hear the expression all the time about students being right on top of you," Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. "But at places like Duke, they're literally right on top of you. When a guy is taking the ball out of bounds, those fans could literally reach out and touch him if they wanted to. That can get into your head."

So can the signs that students hold up while opponents shoot free throws or the chants they do during dead balls and timeouts. Whether it's the Antlers at Missouri, the Paint Crew at Purdue, The Show at San Diego State or the Cameron Crazies at Duke, well-organized student groups can make a huge difference in a game.

Oregon coach Dana Altman said more than 15,000 fans attended home games when he was at Creighton. But with only about 4,000 undergrads, the environment wasn't always as imposing as some might expect. Former ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb once referred to the Qwest Center as "The Library."

"The students there are key," Altman said. "When they show up, it's on a different level."

Along those same lines, a venue's configuration is also a factor. Coaches said massive arenas like Kentucky's Rupp Arena aren't nearly as difficult to play in because things are "so big and sprawled out," meaning teams don't get as up close and personal with the fans.

"You play at Syracuse and there are 30,000 people in there, but it's just a basketball court laid on a football field," Marquette's Buzz Williams said. "You play at somewhere like Villanova, an on-campus facility, and those bleachers are at a 60-degree incline. They're right on you."

2. Consistency: Any school can draw fans for big games, but it's the ones that attract sellout crowds no matter the opponent that gain the most respect.

"I had a coach tell me a few years ago that [Bramlage Coliseum at] Kansas State was one of the toughest environments he'd ever been in," said a Big 12 assistant who asked not to be identified. "But when we played there a week later, there were only about 7,000 fans. I guess they only show up for certain games."

At some schools, particularly in the South, fans don't start paying attention to basketball until football season is over. Other fans are fickle, choosing to show up for games against high-caliber, Top 25 opponents. To truly be able to brag about having one of the nation's top home-court advantages, a program must draw sellout crowds whether it's playing North Carolina or North Carolina A&T.

3. Marketing/Noise: Players aren't the only ones who can influence a crowd's involvement in a game. What types of videos are playing on the JumboTron during media timeouts? What about promotions and halftime entertainment and giveaways? Does the band do anything to rile up the crowd? What about the cheerleaders? Are dignitaries and former stars in attendance recognized by the public-address announcer?

"The better experience you give a fan, the more excited and vocal that fan is going to be," Williams said. "If the cheerleading coach and the band director and the marketing guy are all in cahoots, you've got an even better chance to create a good ambiance."

The Big 12 assistant said Kansas' pregame video can be incredibly intimidating. Set to booming music, the montage of clips shows footage of former KU players and coaches including Danny Manning, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Brown, Drew Gooden, the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson.

Two years ago Drew received criticism for pulling his team off the court as the video played. Although he said he did it because it was too loud, some believe Drew didn't want his players to be shaken.

"It was probably a smart move," the Big 12 assistant said. "You sit there and watch that thing with your jaw dropped, and then 20 seconds later the whistle is blowing for the opening tip and you're still rattled. It can be jarring."

4. Tradition: Before he accepted the Texas A&M job two years ago, Billy Kennedy spent five years as the head coach at mid-major power Murray State.

Kennedy said he still remembers people like Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings and former Racers coach Mark Gottfried telling him about the home-court advantage he and his teams would enjoy.

"They told me Murray State was like the [mid-major] Kansas or Duke or North Carolina," Kennedy said. "There's a certain level of fear that goes into playing there. Whenever we were behind and started making a run, I could sense a little fear and doubt in the other team about whether they could win."

Indeed, whether it's at a smaller school such as Murray State or Butler or a tradition-rich program from a big conference like Indiana or North Carolina, the tradition of a program can get into an opponents' head.

Altman was an assistant at Kansas State when the Wildcats broke KU's 55-game win streak under Larry Brown at Allen Fieldhouse.

"It had started getting into the back of our mind," Altman said. "We didn't know if we were ever going to get over the hump. It took quite a bit to overcome that."

Kansas' current streak is even more impressive, as the Jayhawks have won 101 of their last 102 games in Lawrence. Pittsburgh was 174-20 at the Petersen Events Center before Williams' Marquette squad beat...
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