Have Horizon League teams been missing their fans?


Fans have long hypothesized that if their screams as an opponent stepped to the line for a crucial free throw had been a fewwww decibels higher, the shot surely would have rimmed out. Or if they had jeered a visiting star with some choice words before an inbound, they might get in his head juuuust enough to force a critical turnover on the ensuing possession.

Perhaps an oversized cardboard cutout of Betty White or some random figure with only moderate relevancy to the mid-major hoops Zeitgeist would bring the opponent enough utter confusion to brick that three ball at the buzzer.

Regardless folks, it’s been a tough year for the fan. Dialing up ESPN+ on the ol’ laptop doesn’t quite mimic the in-person experience to be found at the great atmospheres of Horizon League basketball.

From the right-on-top-of-ya O’renagoers, to the big-bowled crowds of BB&T Arena and the Nutter Center, to the SHRILL chants of Indianapolis’ finest elementary school students who’ve achieved good enough grades to earn themselves a field trip to Indiana Farmer’s Coliseum, fans across the Horizon League miss their teams.

But this strange, fanless season allows us to ask… are Horizon League teams missing their fans?

Before we dive into this week’s query, I’d like to introduce this column and myself. You may know me from my Twitter feed (@HorizonBoy_HB) where I pick each and every #HLMBB conference game against the spread. However, this column has a different agenda. The 2020-21 Horizon League schedule presents a Petri dish for experimenting my half-baked theories into predictive analytics.

Back to back scheduling, empty seats, and various other controls could potentially extract correlations into what makes HLMBB teams win basketball games, and by how much. Each week will examine a different element of this bizarre 2020-21 season by comparing it with past seasons and eyeing oddsmakers’ approaches to setting the spreads. Hopefully, in the process, you’ll find some unique factoids and insights into your favorite Horizon squads.

Now to lead us off–

Question: Are Horizon League teams performing worse at home without their faithful fans in the stands?

Answer: No. In fact, Horizon League home teams are performing even better without fans in the stands.

Across Horizon League conference play in the 2019-20 season, home teams were favored by an average of 3.29 points– a Darius Quisenberry three and some change. Home teams were favored in 71.1% of contests, but to the dismay of hometown hopefuls, won only 54.4% of games (a 49-41 record).

Further, home teams only outscored their opponents by 1.52 points– a fine day for Mike DePersia. Now take out Wright State, the only Horizon League team to post an undefeated 9-0 slate last year, and suddenly home teams were sub .500. Unsurprisingly then, home teams were only 36-52-2 against the spread, a 40.9% cover rate. Yikes.

So how has Vegas adjusted to the removal of fans? Oddly enough, oddsmakers haven’t been honoring Horizon League crowds much at all. In fact, even less than last year! So far, home teams have been favored in conference games by an average of only 3.03 points, a slight dip from 2019-20. In other words, home court advantage has been predicted to be less of a factor this year than last year. So is Vegas onto something, or are fans proving their value with their absence?

So far, home teams are winning by 3.57 points per game, with some thanks to a few MASSIVE wins by Wright State. Still, the overall win percentage is higher too, at 59.1%. Only Detroit Mercy (2-4) and IUPUI (0-2) have posted losing records at home to date.

Last season, home teams underperformed their Vegas expectancy by 1.17 points. This season, home teams are outperforming their Vegas expectancy by a half point (or as I say, a Loudon Love free throw (sorry Loudon I mean no disrespect)) and covering 8% more often.

Halfway through play, Horizon League home teams are winning more often, by a larger margin, and covering more spreads than they were the year before. This might be a tough pill to swallow for the “AHHHHH!” free throw yellers, the PG-13 jeerers, and the Betty White cutout-holders, but at least teams are protecting the nest?

Due to the small and varying sample sizes, it’s obviously too early to judge conclusively on a team-by-team basis. We’ll circle back at the end of the season, but to tide us all over, here’s some hot and premature observations:

  • Wright State faithful might feel validated that Nagy’s bunch misses their presence. They’ve dropped two home games already following last year’s clean slate.
  • Fans of Cleveland State might want to stay behind the Wolstein Center curtains, as the Vikings are covering home spreads by 7.1 points per game.
  • Perhaps it has to do more with the Yaklich spark, but the Flames are winning home conference games by an average 9.25 points per game, and losing by an average 20 points on the road.
  • It’s a down year for the Norse, but they seem to be missing Norse Nation. According to Oddsshark.com, NKU hasn’t been a home underdog in a conference game since January 20, 2017 vs. Oakland (NKU was +3 and lost by 79-70), but they have already dropped three home games.
  • I think Greg Kampe should have worn his Christmas sweater even if there were no fans in the stands.

Thanks for reading, fellow Horizon League fanatics. Your teams miss your presence very much, and I can’t wait for normal attendance to return. Remember that as Horizon Boy, I am a fan of none, but a fan of all!

This week’s Trivia Question: Getting 16.5 points, which team was the biggest underdog of the 2019-20 Horizon League conference play, and who was their opponent?

DM @HorizonBoy_HB on Twitter with the correct answer for a shoutout in next week’s column!

Note: The only purpose of this column is to provide information. This information is for entertainment purposes only and is not intended to be used to make any sort of investing or gambling decisions. As such, Horizon Boy and the HoriZone Roundtable will not be held responsible for any outcomes that result from the reliance upon this site’s information.

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