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Column: Home team advantage

By Tim Fontenault
On March 24, 2014

After UConn knocked off Villanova Saturday night in Buffalo to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since winning the 2011 national title, I asked Niels Giffey if he thinks everything is falling into place for the Huskies.
­­Naturally, he only wants to look ahead to Friday, when UConn, the No. 7 seed in the East Region, takes on No. 3 Iowa State for a spot in the Elite Eight.
That game is at Madison Square Garden, the "World's Most Famous Arena."
Ken Pomeroy has UConn as the slightest of favorites. The guys in Las Vegas opened with Iowa State as a one-point favorite. It's understandable that this would be a tough game to predict. UConn is averaging 83 points per game in the tournament while allowing 73. Iowa State is averaging 89 points while allowing 79. The Cyclones lead the tournament with a .488 3-point field goal percentage. UConn is fourth of the teams left at .455.
Basically, this is going to be a good one and UConn will be playing in its natural habitiat.
Remember the Big East Tournament? Yes, there was a time when UConn's conference tournament was not played in front of 6,000 people in the South. They actually used to play in front of 20,000 in the heart of New York City.
Madison Square Garden. Oh, the memories.
It's where Ray Allen's ridiculous shot in the lane beat Georgetown in 1996, giving UConn its first Big East title.
It's where Taliek Brown beat the shot clock from 35 feet in the final minute of double overtime against Pittsburgh in 2002, the first of two championships in three straight title games between the Huskies and Panthers.
It's where Kemba Walker, well, you know.
UConn at Madison Square Garden. There is nothing better.
"It's always good to go back to the Garden," Ryan Boatright said after the Huskies' 77-65 win over No. 2 Villanova Saturday. "At UConn, we call the Garden our second home because when we go to the Garden, we take care of business."
UConn has a very tough opponent on tap Friday, but the reason why I put UConn over Iowa State in my bracket is that the pro-Huskies crowd has the potential to play a big role in this game. UConn always has an extra jump in its step when it plays in front of a big crowd that wants to see it win.
Evidence points to Friday being a very pro-UConn crowd, even with four teams - UConn, Iowa Sate, Michigan State and Virginia - playing in the Garden that night. Andrew Callahan, a former columnist for The Daily Campus, made an excellent find Monday morning on SeatGeek, a ticket search engine that aggregates tickets from multiple websites.
According to a release on the site, the tickets for the East Regional Semifinals are the most expensive the site has ever recorded for an NCAA tournament regional (that dates back to 2009), with the average cost of a full strip (tickets to the Semifinals and Sunday's Regional Final) up to $570. The second-most expensive regional right now is Anaheim, where fans can get tickets for the three games featuring Arizona, San Diego State, Baylor and Wisconsin for $464.
The average cost to get in for Friday only is $355, the most expensive single-admission ticket for college basketball in Garden history, breaking the mark set during last year's Big East semifinals, which featured the last Big East game between Syracuse and Georgetown and a matchup between Notre Dame and Louisville.
Demand is undoubtedly high, which is a reason for the increase in price on the secondary market, and the demand is coming from Connecticut.
According to SeatGeek, 40 percent of the traffic through their site in search of tickets is from Connecticut. Thirty percent is from New York and New Jersey, a hotbed for UConn alumni.
Personally, I have had dozens of people reach out to me - current students, alumni, Twitter followers and UConn fans in general - in regards to tickets. The demand from UConn Country is almost overwhelming.
One look at the Buy or Sell UConn Tickets page on Facebook shows people are trying desperately to find tickets (though I'm upset that when I looked there were no outrageous posts like, "Best, dirtiest voicemail gets the ticket.")
UConn is going to pack the Garden Friday and that is going to be big for the Huskies, who are 2-0 there this year, and won by a total of three points over Boston College and Indiana.
For a team that likes to grind games out and is going up against a fairly even opponent, home-court advantage could be key. If UConn has the crowd and can put together 40 minutes, as opposed to the two strong second halves they played in Buffalo, the Huskies will keep dancing to Sunday. Get to the Elite Eight and who knows what will happen. The Final Four is not out of the question.
I'm looking forward to being in the Garden Friday night. This is what college basketball is all about.

Follow Tim on Twitter @Tim_Fontenault

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