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UConn WBB Weekly: Do the Huskies play better at Gampel Pavilion or the XL Center?

Looking at UConn’s performance against top teams at its two home arenas.

Ian Bethune - The UConn Blog

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Is Gampel Pavilion or the XL Center better for hosting big games?

UConn women’s basketball is one of the few teams in the country to have two home arenas: Gampel Pavilion in Storrs and the XL Center in Hartford. Seemingly every year when the Huskies release their schedule, a debate kicks up over whether or not they should split their time between the two locations.

The college basketball purists prefer Gampel Pavilion. It’s on-campus — the way college sports were intended — which makes it easier for students to attend and with that, improves the atmosphere. The domed roof and circular seating bowl inside Gampel also make it a more intimate arena than the cavernous XL Center.

But the XL Center has value, too. It’s located in downtown Hartford, a more easily-accessible, central location for fans and there’s more to do before and after games compared to Storrs. It’s also 60 percent larger than Gampel Pavilion with a basketball capacity of 16,294, which allows more fans to watch in-person and boosts the school’s ticket profits.

For fans, it essentially comes down to personal preference. But in terms of basketball, does UConn perform better at one arena compared to the other?

To find an answer, we looked at every game the Huskies have played against an AP Top 10 opponent at either location in the last decade (2010-11 through 2019-20). We excluded this past season because of the lack of fans and the general weirdness that went along with the campaign due to COVID-19

In those matchups, UConn has gone 8-4 at the XL Center and 12-2 at Gampel Pavilion — two two fewer games, but twice as many losses at XL compared to Gampel. Not only is the record better, the opponents have been marginally tougher at Gampel as well.

There’s no perfect way to measure the strength of an opponent but the AP Poll is at least standard. Using the poll, the average ranking of those XL Center foes is 5.0 while at Gampel, it’s 4.6.

The Huskies also seem to perform better on-campus compared to downtown. UConn scored an average of 76.4 points per game at Gampel against top-10 opponents, 8.6 points per game higher than their XL Center average (67.8). Defensively, the difference was marginal with 61.4 points allowed per game in Storrs versus 62.8 points allowed per game in Hartford.

So strictly by the numbers, Gampel Pavilion has been a better venue than the XL Center for UConn. The Huskies have a higher winning percentage against a tougher slate of opponents and they score more points while allowing fewer on-campus than downtown. However, the numbers can be misleading because they leave out an important factor: Which UConn teams were playing these games?

Obviously, the Huskies don’t have the same set of players year over year and some teams were better than others.

From 2010-11 through 2012-13, UConn went 104-11 with a 90.4 winning percentage. Since then (excluding the pandemic season), the Huskies have gone 252-9, good for a 96.6 winning percentage. Despite playing 146 more games from 2013-20, they’ve lost two fewer games than from 2010-13.

That’s relevant here because between 2010-2013, UConn played nine top-10 opponents at the XL Center and six at Gampel. In the seven seasons after, the Huskies have played just three games against top-10 opponents in Hartford compared to eight in Storrs.

So during its stretch of unprecedented dominance over seven years, UConn faced top-10 opponents at Gampel Pavilion far more frequently than the XL Center, which naturally pads the numbers in Gampel’s favor. In fact, three of the Huskies’ four losses in Hartford came prior to 2013-14.

So ultimately, it’s hard to definitively say whether UConn plays better in one venue or the other, but Gampel does have a few, less quantifiable benefits. The Huskies practice there on a regular basis — something that can’t be said about the XL Center — and the players can walk from their apartments instead of having to get on a bus. Whether or not either of those factors have an affect is almost impossible to know, but it likely makes the players more comfortable with Gampel.

Gampel also seems to have a better atmosphere thanks to the wall of students behind one basket and the proximity of rest of the fans to the court compared to the XL Center, where everyone is more spread out.

More than anything, the most important factor that determines whether or not UConn will beat a top-10 opponent is the quality of its team in a given year. The Huskies’ 2016 national championship squad could’ve won a game on the mood. The 2019-20 team suffered the largest loss in the history of Gampel Pavilion against Oregon, so it’s not like the home court advantage made any difference.

But unless UConn starts playing substantially worse or loses at a significant rate at one arena compared to the other — regardless of the team’s talent level — there doesn’t seem to be any basketball advantages between Gampel Pavilion or the XL Center.

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