The Court Report: Why programs should follow Baylor, downsize arenas for better college basketball experience

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A few years ago, Baylor University approved a move that will likely benefit its athletic department and uplift its basketball programs for decades: it put hundreds of millions of dollars into building a smaller basketball arena.
At the time of the decision, the Ferrell Center had existed for barely more than 30 years. Yet the school committed more than $210 million to build a new venue that would reduce capacity by 27%.
The twinkling-new Foster Pavilion wasn’t ready in time for the start of the 2023-24 season, but in an interesting wrinkle, it did clear inspection for an in-season launch. On Tuesday night, Baylor had its first big matchup in its new home. The No. 14 Bears beat 18th-ranked BYU 81-72 in their second game in the new digs, which is tucked alongside the Brazos River in Waco. What seems obvious one week in is that the school has landed in the coveted territory of playing in an arena that feels intimidating for opponents but shouldn’t suffer from swaths of empty seats.
In fact, there are more seats closer to the court here than in Baylor’s old joint. And the furthest seat from the court is nearly 60 feet closer than in the Ferrell Center. For a power-conference program with a recent national championship, the decision to go smaller was … big.
“I think people can relate when they get a new car, how excited they are to drive it,” Bears coach Scott Drew told CBS Sports. “The fans have a buzz about it and we do as well.”
Drew had gently been pushing Baylor to build a better basketball building for at least a decade. Now he’s got a recruiting asset that will stack up alongside almost any other program.
Texas recently went smaller, and a few years before that, TCU did as well. Baylor isn’t the first, but for basketball purposes, it might have the best. Foster Pavilion has the potential to be one of the elite home-court environments — in addition to being one of the best arenas — in college basketball.
It’s a 223,547-square-foot, 7,500-capacity venue that took barely over a year and a half to open and is the perfect building at the perfect time for Baylor’s basketball endeavors.
“From shovel in the ground to opening it was 20 months, which is unheard of,” Drew said.
The crowd looked terrific on television Tuesday night. (The camera perch is a bit vertical, however!) Baylor has a student section strategically placed behind the team benches and facing the camera, curling around to each baseline as well.
“They’ve called some good plays and had some good suggestions,” Drew joked to me. “If you’re a student, where else would you rather be?”
And how many venues have the student section literally directly behind an opposing team’s bench?
“Noise level is No. 1,” Drew said when asked what his favorite features are to the place. He also emphasized the verticality of the seating, the uniqueness of not having a video board hanging over the center of the court (there are two huge ones at each end of the Pavilion) and the fact there are no bad seats in the venue. It’s impossible; it’s too small to find one. Technology in the arena has also led to flashy game production that makes Baylor basketball feel bigger than it’s ever been.
The buzz around Foster Pavilion has predictably led to Baylor selling out single-game tickets for the rest of the season; that would not have been possible at the Ferrell Center. President Linda Livingstone, athletic director Mack Rhoades (who led the reconstruction at Houston’s Fertitta Center when he was AD there) and other key decision-makers saw a vision where they could hit serve demand while also keeping supply reasonable for BU fans.
“You’re not going to lose [in recruiting] because someone has a nicer arena, and you’re not going to have people come to a game and say, ‘I don’t like the atmosphere,'” Drew said. “But especially in-season, having it open up, the Big 12 is No. 1 again, and the No.1 thing you have to do is win home games. This gives us an edge.”
As I watched on Tuesday, I couldn’t shake the thought: A lot of other places could learn from this.
There are maybe two dozen Division I schools that have proven they can consistently support and validate playing in arenas with a capacity of 12,000-plus. For all others, the 7,000-9,500 range is the ideal size in an era when attendance at sporting events across the country has become more challenging.
Keep in mind that many schools don’t have the funding nor the footprint or geographic luxury of tearing down one arena to build another. And there are some arenas that still need to exist for many events outside of basketball games. But if there was a magic wand that could change things, here’s an introductory list of schools with venues well north of 12,000-seat capacity that would be SO MUCH better off playing in a barn that held somewhere closer to 9,000 people. (Home-venue capacity in parentheses.)
Georgetown (20,600)
NC State (19,700)
Ohio State (19,049)
Memphis (18,400)
South Carolina (18,000)
Alabama (15,316)
Penn State (15,261)
Texas Tech (15,098)
Missouri (15,061)
Iowa (15,056)
Wake Forest (14,665)
West Virginia (14,000)
That’s only the start of it. The coaches and fans know, too. Dozens of programs are playing in barns that are too big. It has an impact on environment, which means it has an impact on home-court advantage and long-term program success.
Baylor was already a great program under Drew. Now it seems in an even stronger position moving forward because Foster Pavilion might have just jumped BU’s home-court environment from bottom five in the Big 12 to top-15 in the country.
A lot of places could learn from this. Let’s see if any are ambitious enough to follow suit and make a change by the end of the decade.
Baylor Athletics
Baylor Athletics
History lesson on fates of last unbeatens
Houston’s 57-53 loss at Iowa State Tuesday night marked the end of our undefeated watch for 2024. As good as Houston is, there’s no way it’s getting out of January in the Big 12 without at least a couple of defeats.
Still, the Coogs being the last to lose puts them in an interesting club. What significance or correlation comes with being the final undefeated team? I track/update this data annually. The chart below goes back 30-plus seasons. Sometimes the final unbeaten wins the national title. Most times, no.
Five teams in the past 32 seasons to be the last one standing have gone on to win the national title.
That’s not an amazing ratio, but it isn’t discouraging. These are the fates of every team that was the last to lose since 1992. If more than one team lost on the same day, they are accounted for.
And so 1975-76 Indiana remains untouchable as the most recent team to run the table. In addition to the five above, 1977-78 Kentucky also won a title after lasting longest before losing.
Since 1991-92 …
The average record of the final unbeaten before taking its first defeat: 19-0
Since ’91-92, the average date for the final undefeated to fall: Feb. 4
Four of the past seven seasons have seen the last unbeaten fall prior to Jan. 13
First losses come away from the last unbeaten’s home venue approximately 75% of the time
Encouraging: Not accounting for 2020 and SMU’s ineligible season, 12 of the 35 teams to lose last on the latest date (34.3%) reached the Final Four
Excluding 2020, only two teams have been the final to lose and not qualify for the NCAA Tournament: Clemson in 2007 and New Mexico in 2023 (2016 SMU would have made it if not for a postseason ban)
Removing Clemson, New Mexico and SMU from the equation, the average number of NCAA Tournament wins since 1992 for the last teams to lose is three . Only five times did a team to lose last deepest into the season fail to win a tournament game. The most recent was USC in 2022
. Only five times did a team to lose last deepest into the season fail to win a tournament game. The most recent was USC in 2022 The most common exit for the last unbeaten team is the Sweet 16 (eight times)
Average final record for the last unbeaten team: 30-5
As of Wednesday morning, Houston still rates No. 1 in predictive metrics across the board. The expectation, at minimum, is for this team to finish top three in the Big 12, earn a top-three NCAA seed and make the second weekend of the Big Dance. Nothing is guaranteed, but a lot of historical and current data supports Houston having a strong showing in March.
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The Court Report’s weekly mailbag! Find me on X/Twitter or Bluesky and drop a Q anytime.
As of Wednesday, 13-1 Kansas sits high at No. 3 in the AP Top 25, but on the computer side it’s ranked:
13th at EvanMiya.com
15th in the NET
16th at KenPom
17th in BPI
18th at Torvik
Yep, that’s definitely interesting, particularly for a school like Kansas, which has a long-established track record of being a metrics force for so long. To have one loss while representing the toughest league and own three Quad 1 wins and still be that far back in predictives is intriguing. Part of this is closer-shave victories against Eastern Illinois and Indiana. Because the Big 12 is so strong, I can assure you KU will rise up into the top five if it wins the league.
The tangible oddities of conference realignment will really start to take hold when you tune into hoops tonight to see Kansas playing a conference game at UCF’s arena. Weird! This marks the first game ever between the two.
In the past decade-ish, the strongest top-tier season for college hoops was 2014-15. Kentucky went 38-1 and lost to 36-4 Wisconsin in the Final Four, while Duke went 36-4 and won the title. All were No. 1 seeds. The other 1-seed was 33-3 Villanova. Arizona, Virginia and Gonzaga were all 2-seeds that won 30-plus games. Notre Dame, as a No. 3, nearly knocked off Kentucky in the Elite Eight; that team won 32 games. We’ve still got to see how this season pans out, but in the past 10 years, I think we’re headed toward it being in the bottom half in terms of top-end strength.
I would rank the top three:
Arkansas Auburn Tennessee
Rupp Arena is a good venue, but coaches and media alike would tell you it does not rank anywhere near the top 10 nationally of the most intimidating environments, on balance, in college hoops.
Decently excited, I’d say. SJU is 11-4 and tied for first with a 3-1 Big East record. Providence comes to town tonight. The recent win at Villanova may prove vital for the Red Storm’s NCAA Tournament credentials in eight weeks. As of today, St. John’s postseason radius feels like it has an NCAA 7-seed ceiling and an NIT 3-seed floor. There’s no bust option in Year 1 under Pitino, so enjoy yourself.
Let’s work on narrowing it down to just one question per tweet! No. 1 here is interesting. Which coach is closest to the eccentricity of Harbaugh. Hmm … I think Buzz Williams might be the call. In terms of overall package as a coach, but not the same at all in terms of personality, Kelvin Sampson has a success rate that has some parallels to Harbaugh.
As for No. 4, the answer is the Saint Louis Billiken.
There are 63 AP voters, and this week’s poll saw the 13-1 Princeton Tigers receive a vote on just two ballots. Princeton’s six road wins (it has seven road/neutral victories in all) are tied for the most in the sport. Why is it not ranked? It doesn’t have a top-80 win. It also doesn’t sit in the top 40 of any predictive metric. It will need to win five in a row (with four of those on the road) to get to 18-1 to have a chance at breaking through. That said: Nobody’s overlooking Princeton if it makes the tournament. Great candidate as the rare back-to-back Cinderella.
Norlander’s news + nuggets
• Boise State won at home over Colorado State on Tuesday night, extending its nation-leading home winning streak to 19. It also boosts the Mountain West’s case, for now, to be at least a five-bid league. If you missed it last week, I went into detail about how this could shape up as the best season in the 25-year history of the conference.
• The biggest game of the night for me is going down in the Valley: 13-2 Indiana State at 12-3 Drake. The MVC has a slim-slim chance of being a two-bid league. If it’s going to happen, Drake has to win this one.
• UNC and NC State are both 3-0 in the ACC entering Wednesday night’s game. A stunner: It’s first time since Jan. 22, 1974, and only the fourth time ever the Tar Heels and Wolfpack have met when both teams were at least 3-0 in the ACC.
• Last week, ESPN and the NCAA jointly announced an eight-year, $920 million TV rights deal for 40 championships — which means a continuation of ESPN/ABC broadcasting the women’s NCAA tournament. It’s a major media headline, and I thought Matt Brown’s Extra Points column did a good job laying out the why of it all, in addition to teeing up some lingering questions.
• Mick Cronin skipping out on his press conference obligations after losing to Cal on Saturday night was about as soft as it gets for a guy who prides himself on being one of the tougher coaches in the game. You’re paid millions to represent UCLA. Doesn’t matter how bad it gets, you show up and talk. Fortunately, Cronin apologized on Tuesday for skipping the presser. I doubt he’ll ever do something like that again.
• The life of the lone D-I independent: Chicago State plays its 23rd game of the season Wednesday (at Fairleigh Dickinson). No one else has played more than 18 games. Of its 27 D-I games, 17 are on the road. Fortunately for the Cougars, they’ll join the NEC next season.
• The WAC is again using a unique metric — which values every game, nonconference included — to seed its tournament. Ken Pomeroy wrote about why this should be the standard across the sport. Ken is right, and he makes a great point about the lost opportunities for leagues to put more value on nonconference play.
• Western Carolina’s Vonterius Woolbright is climbing the ranks of the best players in the country. The inevitable SoCon Player of the Year has 12 double-doubles in 15 games — as a shooting guard — for 13-2 WCU. Woolbright’s 21.1 points and 12.4 rebounds averages put him in the top 10 nationally in both categories. The only other player who can claim the same: Zach Edey.
• Good omen for March or is a regression to the mean incoming? Memphis is 8-1 this season in games decided by six points or fewer. That’s by far the best win percentage of any high-major program. The Tigers lost Caleb Mills to a season-ending knee injury, which lowers their ceiling.
• Rick Pitino invoking the enigmatic college hoops Twitter burner Trilly Donovan at a press conference is a lock for top-five moment of January, no matter what happens over the next 21 days.

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