College basketball fans are some of the liveliest in all of sports. No matter how their team’s performing, their loyalty remains unwavering. They will wait outside for hours to get tickets to the game, they will cover themselves from head to toe in body paint, and they will do whatever they can to be there for their team. But how can we know if their presence is really helping out the home team? That’s simple: by seeing how well they distract opposing free-throw shooters.
Fortunately for us, The Upshot (a New York Times blog devoted to analytics) took the time to crunch the numbers and determine which college fans proved to be the most effective at getting opposing teams to miss their free throws. That’s certainly one way to determine who has the best fans in college basketball, and the results are quite interesting. Based on the numbers, here’s a look at the seven most distracting fan bases in college basketball.
- Change in opponents’ free-throw percentage: -4.1 percentage points
- Points saved in an average game: 0.8
The Virginia Cavaliers are certainly not one of the first teams you think of when discussing college basketball, but they probably should be. They are a smart and consistent squad who play a great brand of team ball and, after finishing the year with a 29-2 record and a regular-season ACC title, they deserve some appreciation. On top of the team’s success, the Cavaliers are fortunate enough to have a very loyal and effective fan base. With these spectators distracting opposing teams’ free-throw shooters, free-throw percentages are down a little more than 4 percentage points, and this saves Virginia 0.8 points a game.
- Change in opponents’ free-throw percentage: -4.3 percentage points
- Points saved in an average game: 0.9
The UCLA Bruins have one of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball, but who would’ve guessed how much of an advantage the team would have while playing at home in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins faithful have managed to be distracting enough that their presence helps cost opponents 0.9 points per game. On top of that, opposing teams shoot 4.3 percentage points worse from the free-throw line at Pauley Pavilion than they would on their own home floor. This can be a major advantage come crunch time.
- Change in opponents’ free-throw percentage: -4.5 percentage points
- Points saved in an average game: 0.9
The Nebraska Cornhuskers tend to be better known for their football program, but it doesn’t seem to prevent fans from making noise at home basketball games. As a force in red, the Cornhusker fans help cost opponents 0.9 points per game, and they are a major reason why opponents’ free-throw percentages are down 4.5 percentage points. In the end, Nebraska can use all the help it can get. After all, it’s not easy competing in the Big Ten Conference.
- Change in opponents’ free-throw percentage: -4.9 percentage points
- Points saved in an average game: 1.0
The Utah Utes are a top 20 program with a 24-7 record on the year. They also know that wherever they go, they will have the love and support of a crazy fan base: a group of people who make it very difficult for opposing free-throw shooters. Whether they’re getting rowdy while wearing loud body paint or scaring opponents with large, floating heads of Utah players, the Utes have benefited from having this bunch behind their basket. This is a major reason why it’s difficult for anyone to face Utah at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
- Change in opponents’ free-throw percentage: -5.5 percentage points
- Points saved in an average game: 1.1
The Baylor Bears have a lot of things going for them that make it difficult for opponents to come into the Ferrell Center. While their mascot, Bruiser, is always around to make his presence known, it’s the loyal Baylor fans that cause opposing players to have nightmares from the free-throw line. These wild fans make up the members of the Baylor Bear Pit, and their soul purpose is to get in the heads of their opponents. With opposing teams losing 1.1 points per game and having a decrease of 5.5 percentage points on their total free-throw percentage, we’d say that the Bear Pit is getting the job done.
- Change in opponents’ free-throw percentage: -6.6 percentage points
- Points saved in an average game: 1.3
The Northwestern Wildcats aren’t exactly a force to be reckoned with on the basketball court. In fact, at 15-17 on the year, they’re one of the worst teams in the Big Ten Conference. But this in no way prevents their fans from helping out in any way they can. They are a majorly distracting bunch who aren’t afraid to dress in weird attire, and they will go out of their way to be creative with their methods of distraction. These are some of the reasons why opponents find it so difficult to hit free throws at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Wildcats may not win a lot of ballgames, but at least they have fans who will help cost opposing teams 1.3 points per game and shoot 6.6 percentage points worse from the charity stripe.
1. Arizona State
- Change in opponents’ free-throw percentage: -8.7 percentage points
- Points saved in an average game: 1.7
If you’re looking for the most distracting fans in college basketball, that title belongs to those who support the Arizona State Sun Devils. This insane bunch have set the standard by creating the “Curtain of Distraction,” and it’s an absolute game-changer. A lot of preparation goes into this means of distraction but, given its effectiveness, it’s certainly worth it. When facing the Curtain of Distraction, opposing teams are losing 1.7 points, and their free-throw percentage is down 8.7 percentage points. It’s crazy how much this method works for the ASU fan base. And as long as it helps their team, you can be sure that strange characters will continue to come out from behind their Curtain of Distraction.
To view the rest of college basketball’s most distracting fans, check out The Upshot’s complete list here.