Both North Carolina and N.C. State were trying Wednesday night to buck what has become an increasingly dominant (and curious) trend in the early going of the ACC season: The strongest home-court advantage in decades.
Going into Wednesday’s games, ACC teams were 19-6 at home in conference play, on pace for the highest winning percentage (.760) in the 64 seasons the ACC has been in existence. The previous high of .750 (42-14) was set in 1980, and the league has cracked the .700 mark only once since then, in 2003.
Some of this may be chance – random noise in a small sample, a function of quirks in the early season schedule – since we’re less than a fifth of the way through ACC play, but it may also speak to the top-to-bottom strength and depth of the ACC. In seasons when home-court advantage is small, it’s often because a few dominant teams are piling up road wins as they steamroll everything in their path, or an outlier at the other end of the spectrum (like Boston College last season) is skewing the numbers. Even Georgia Tech and Boston College, who were expected to beat only each other, have been protecting their home turf against much stronger opponents.
This season, the gap between elite and solid is so small, and the lower-tier teams in the ACC so good, the average 3.5 points a home court typically delivers a home team is more than enough to put the home team ahead on a regular basis. There are only three conferences where home teams are winning at a higher rate, according to data compiled by statistician Ken Pomeroy (the Big West, the Sun Belt and the Big 12, none of which have a clear favorite or a truly terrible last-place team). Conversely, the SEC – with its two overwhelming favorites and Missouri dragging behind – is 32nd out of the 32 Division I conferences.
Both North Carolina and N.C. State were expected to win Wednesday night. Pomeroy gave the Tar Heels a 71 percent chance to beat the Demon Deacons, and Las Vegas had them as a 8 1/2-point favorite. The Wolfpack was at 69 percent and a 5 1/2-point favorite. But as this ACC season has shown, over and over again, winning on the road in conference play has never been harder.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock