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In the later stages of the NCAA Tournament (the Final Four, and possibly Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen), the games are usually played in large stadiums to accommodate a huge number of fans.

Sometimes during these games, certain players (or even entire teams) have very bad shooting performances. Often times people and commentators will say it's because the players aren't used to shooting in such large arenas. They frequently cite depth-perception problems as a result of the wide-open feel of the basketball court.

Is this true? Can a large stadium really cause depth-perception or other problems that would impact a player's shooting? I would imagine that most of these players grew up playing on outdoor courts, so I don't know why a wide-open feel would have any impact on them.

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    Are you sure it's the space? Or the 10,000 eyes staring at you. – corsiKa Mar 28 '15 at 23:47
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    @corsiKa Good question. But I've heard announcers and others talk about the wide open space causing depth perception problems, and I was wondering if there was any validity to it. – pacoverflow Mar 28 '15 at 23:53
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    There's also a distinction to be made between stadiums and large arenas. The Final Four, in particular, was played in a stadium last year and will be this year, also. The commentators indeed suggested that the amount of space between the backboard and crowd (which you don't generally have even in large arenas) made depth perception trickier for shooters. I doubt we have a large enough sample size to really say anything conclusive, but it certainly seems a reasonable conjecture, and probably one that the players echoed. – Shane Mar 29 '15 at 2:46
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    Sounds to me like announcer-talk and unlikely to be relevant. Most of these guys aren't using their eyes to shoot, anyway, they're using muscle memory, so as long as the basket's still the same distance away they're good. Jitters from stress and crowd noise seem more relevant to me. – Joe Mar 30 '15 at 3:35
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    Though I'm intrigued at the distinction @Shane makes between 'stadium' and 'arena'. Is there an official difference? I thought the words were used interchangeably. – Joe Mar 30 '15 at 3:36
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Short Answer: Scientifically, the size of the arena is irrelevant to the shooting performance though the nervousness of playing in front of a big crowd can negatively affect a player's shooting.

Long Answer: Statistically speaking, the stadium doesn't affect shooting by much (and this website makes that case). To prove this point, below are the shooting percentages in the three different types of stadiums during the 2009 and 2010 regionals.

  • Hockey arenas (nine games): 42.8 percent, 455-of-1064.

  • Traditional domes (nine games): 43.1 percent, 444-of-1030

  • Stadium setup (six games): 42.4 percent, 290-of-684.

Compare these numbers above to the average median shooting percentage between the 2009/10 and 2014/15 NCAA season (which is about 43%), you'll see that the arena doesn't affect the shooting.

Take it from Connecticut's coach Jim Calhoun, who really said it the best:

Every gym has a floor and two 10-foot baskets, and Reliant certainly qualified

But then in some cases, such as an under 20% 3pt shooting in a 2015 regional semi-final and 29.7% shooting half in another, why do teams have disastrous nights? There are always a number of factors that attribute to these horrible shooting nights (this website explains one). Whether it be the nervousness that comes with being in a big game with thousands of eyes on you or great, lock-down defense, bad nights can't be prevented.

Conclusion: Even if the NCAA somehow determines that big stadiums do affect shooting, they wouldn't move the games into the team's home or smaller arenas. This year, over 70 000 people watched the NCAA basketball finals in person, which resulted in millions for the NCAA and member institutions. In the end, with the big arenas, many more get to experience the thrill of the NCAA basketball game.

References:

  • You provided shooting percentages of 42-43% for hockey arenas, traditional domes, and stadiums, but provided no percentages for typical college arenas to compare them with. – pacoverflow May 23 '15 at 17:14
  • The average median shooting percentage in all games from the 2009/10 through the 2014/15 regular season was around 43% (in all arenas), so the answer is that the arena doesn't affect the player's shooting – Andrei May 24 '15 at 1:16
  • You should edit that information into your answer. Also, your NY Times link includes a link to a Ken Pomeroy post which suggests there may be something about NRG Stadium that affects shooters. I'm sure this topic will be revisited in 10 months when the 2016 Final Four is played at NRG Stadium. – pacoverflow May 25 '15 at 6:47
  • In statpages.info/confint.html, I get a 95% confidence interval for hockey arenas to be 39.7% to 45.8%... which I believe shows the values are too closely clustered and there isn't enough data to make any statements. There could be 0 difference, or as much as 5-10% reasonably, particularly given the smaller stadium sample. And even moreso, these aren't independent samples whatsoever given the small number of games with numerous variables that could systematically effect it (team tendencies\skills involved, defenses encountered, specific location quirks, psychological momentum effects) – JeopardyTempest Aug 23 '16 at 20:23
  • It's nice to have some data on this question, it's an intriguing question... but this is very bad statistics to make definitive statements with such minimal data... a problem all-too-often seen in sports. – JeopardyTempest Aug 23 '16 at 20:24

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