Home wreckers: Huskies trying to spoil champion Drury's party

HOUGHTON – Even in today’s age of tempo-free statistics, micro-analysis and Sloan conferences, home court advantage remains a statistical oddity.

It exists. Clearly. Just look at the record splits from year to year.

But the cause of that existence, the reasoning, remains a mystery – educated guesswork at best.

Why do some good teams have a home court advantage, but others enjoy an Advantage, with a capital ‘A?’ What is it, beyond the clichs – sleeping in your own bed, same routines, etc – that actually makes it easier to win at home?

The Michigan Tech men’s basketball team may never nail down the why, but it is clear that their Sweet 16 opponent, No. 1-seeded Drury, enjoys a rarified edge tonight at 8 p.m..

A home court Advantage with a capital-A.

“They don’t lose here,” Tech coach Kevin Luke said in a phone interview. “The place is packed, the atmosphere is intense, and they do not lose here.”

Literally.

The defending national champions and regional No. 1 seed have notched a 16-0 record at the O’Reilly Family Event Center this season, and only lost one game at home last year, including a season-ending 76-62 win over Tech in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Drury defends its home floor in a similar manner to GLIAC power Findlay, with the Oilers boasting just five losses at the Croy Gymnasium in the last decade. Tech has not won at Findlay in that span.

“That’s a good comparison actually,” Luke said. “They are very, very similar. They just don’t lose here. It’s a really tough place to come in and try and nag a win.”

The Drury crowd, usually packed in the 3,100 seat arena, plays into the Panthers’ personality.

DU’s formidable defense is based on constant man-to-man pressure, with the Panthers forcing 16 turnovers a game while holding opponents to 40 percent shooting from the field with a lowly 29.6 percent mark from three-point range. As the turnovers come, and the Panthers get running, the crowd gets more and more into it and the tempo increases. It is a vicious cycle for opponents.

Tech fell victim to that exact scenario in their second-round loss last season, with the Huskies uncharacteristically giving the ball away 18 times.

This season, Tech turns the ball over just 9.1 times per game, the fifth best mark in the entire country.

“It is going to be a ruckus and we have to keep our composure,” Luke said. “We can’t get sped up and lose our composure, because if we do, we are dead. We have to keep the pace as slow as we want and be able to work for good shots.”

Drury’s success is entirely predicated on their team quickness.

While no player on the roster stands taller than 6-foot-6, DU harries teams all day long with disciplined pressure up and down the court.

On offense, they go the same route, attacking the rim off the bounce in everything they do. The Panthers average just over five made threes a game this season. Tech’s offense nearly doubles that number.

“They just play fast. Fast but very organized and structured,” Luke said. “They are not big individuals, but they are quick jumpers and they put pressure on you from everywhere.”

The matchup may come down to strength vs. strength, and which squad’s fares better.

Drury is likely better suited to guard Ben Stelzer and Austin Armga than any team Tech has seen this year, while Troy Hecht may be the ideal individual to matchup with 6-foot-5 slasher Cameron Adams, who averages 17.5 points per game on 66 percent shooting.

“We can’t simulate how fast those kids play, but they can’t simulate what Stelzer and Armga do,” Luke said. “Those guys have moves and tendencies that are unique, so it will be interesting to see.”