In the NCAA Tournament's First Round, Does Game Location Matter?

Paul SwaneySenior Analyst IMarch 16, 2010

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 18:  Jim Boeheim, head coach of the Syracuse Orange, argues a call during a college basketball game against the Georgetown Hoyas on February 18, 2010 at the Verizon Center in Washington DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

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In 2002 the NCAA introduced their pod system in an attempt to keep teams as close to home as possible.

One could theorize that the closer a team plays to home, the better their results would be.

In examining the 256 first-round games since the pods were introduced, I sought to determine if there was a geographical edge to be discovered.

Teams that play first-round games in their home states have an advantage, winning over 80 percent of the time (33-8). That one important exception aside, there does not seem to be any advantage to playing closer to home than your opponent.

Following is a breakdown of each first-round matchup, including an analysis of whether geography has a significant effect on outcomes.


1 vs. 16

This was obviously easy to answer, as it is a well-known fact that no No. 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1 seed. For this particular tournament, Syracuse has the clearest home advantage, playing down the road in Buffalo’s HSBC Arena. In any event, there’s not much to examine here, so let’s move on.


8 vs. 9

This matchup has traditionally been a coin toss, with No. 9 seeds (54 percent) holding a slight edge over No. 8 seeds (46 percent). When you look at choosing a winner based on which team is closest to the game sites, then you see similarly even results, with 56.2 percent of winners being the further team geographically. I guess the lesson here is that if you can’t decide, choose the No. 9 seed furthest from home.

For the 2010 tourney, Wake Forest over Texas in New Orleans would be the choice that best fits this description, so go with the Demon Deacons if in doubt.


5 vs. 12

Over the years, one out of every three No. 12 seeds has been victorious in the first round. That would suggest that at least one No. 5 seed would fall this year, so where is the most likely candidate?

There is no significant difference between the team closest to or furthest from the site, with 53 percent of the closer teams winning. When an upset does occur, 64.2 percent of the time the No. 12 seed is closer than the No. 5 seed. If you see this as a trend, then go with Utah State over Texas A&M in Spokane or UTEP over Butler in San Jose at HP Pavilion.


4 vs. 13

Overall, the No. 4 seed has won 79 percent of its first-round matchups. Geography does not seem to have played any significant part in determining the winner in this matchup. The No. 4 seed wins 80 percent of the time when their campus is closer, and the No. 13 seed wins 25 percent of the time when they are closer.

Of course, with this win percentage, you should expect one No. 13 seed to win, so just pick the matchup you think is best. Siena over Purdue seems to be the popular choice.


3 vs. 14

The No. 3 seed has prevailed 85 percent of the time, including 15 of the last 16 matchups. In the last two examples of No. 14 seeds pulling the upset (Northwestern State in 2006 and Bucknell in 2005), the lower seed had a greater distance to travel. With few examples to examine and no clear signs of a geographical influence, you may want to just stick with the chalk on the No. 3 seeds.


6 vs. 11

The closest team geographically in this matchup has lost more often than not since 2002, with only 43.8 percent with the closeness advantage moving on. Compare that to the win percentage for No. 6 seeds of 69 percent, and you would tend to want to find at least one No. 11 seed to advance this year.

San Diego State has the greatest distance to travel when they play Tennessee in Providence, RI. That may be the direction you want to go.


7 vs. 10

Since the pod system was introduced, the 7/10 matchup has shown the greatest propensity to give an advantage to the closest geographic team. Twenty-three out of 32 games have been won by the team with the proximity edge. This year there are few clear advantages, although the exception would be to pick Richmond over St. Mary’s in Providence.


2 vs. 15

The No. 2 seed has won 96 percent of first-round matchups, making them almost as sure of a bet as a No. 1 seed. No No. 15 seed has won its opener since the pod system was introduced, so there is little reason to believe that there will be an upset.



Overall, it seems as though geography plays almost no part in determining who wins opening-round matchups for the NCAA tournament. When completing your bracket, unless a team is playing in its home state, you can ignore any perceived regional home team advantage.