There is something special about Memorial Gym. I wasn't a believer at first. When I first heard the term Memorial Magic back in November I didn't think twice about it until tonight.
Growing up in Big 12 country, the only magic I'd ever heard of in basketball was Hilton Magic at Iowa State. Now that Vanderbilt has won 18 consecutive games at Memorial Gym and 31 of its last 32 dating back to last season, it would be hard for anyone to believe that Memorial Magic doesn't exist.
And while it is the case everywhere in the country that a team undoubtedly plays its best basketball at home, you would be hard-pressed to find a team that plays better at home than Vanderbilt does at Memorial Gym. Not everyone can claim to have knocked off the No. 1 team in the country two straight years at home with Florida last year and Tennessee Tuesday. In fact, good luck looking up the last time someone did that.
Through 18 home games this season, Vanderbilt has outscored its opponents by an average of 12.27 (221 points) at home and has been outscored by an average of 5.25 (42 points) on the road. The difference in points per game at home compared to on the road is also remarkable. The Commodores are scoring 85.05 (1,531) points per game at home and just 69.50 points (556) on the road.
Success at Memorial Gym is nothing new to Vanderbilt. Now in their 56th season at the gym, the Commodores hold a 668-184 record at home, where they have won an incredible 78.4 percent of their games. In fact, Vanderbilt has never had a losing season at home and only once dipped to the .500 mark.
Just how is Vanderbilt so successful at home? Tremendous fan support, which has been the case all season and was highlighted in Vanderbilt's win over Tennessee.
"Our place was electric tonight," Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said after the game. "This is one of the great places in college basketball on game night and our crowd was absolutely unbelievable."
Like Stallings, Georgia head coach Dennis Felton believes that Vanderbilt's crowd provides the team with an excellent homecourt advantage.
"They have outstanding fan support," he said after Vanderbilt's win over the Bulldogs last Saturday. "The crowd is a big part of anyone's home advantage and they enjoy a terrific home crowd and atmosphere. They are good and loud and respond quickly with a lot of volume."
Another contributing factor in Vanderbilt's success is the unique setup of the gym. Along with Minnesota's Williams Arena, Memorial Gym is the only building in big time college basketball with a court that is elevated. While Williams Arena has its benches below the playing court on the side of the floor, Memorial Gym is the only building that has the team benches on the baselines.
How much does the setup affect visiting teams. Just ask Georgia head coach Dennis Felton, who believes the setup provides Vanderbilt with a great homecourt advantage and shouldn't be allowed.
"It is illegal," he said after Vanderbilt's 86-74 win last Saturday. "For some reason, they are the only program in the country that is allowed to have an illegal setup. That is certainly a part of (why Vanderbilt is successful at home) because they play 16-18 times a year in that setup, and everyone else only plays at most once and you are away from everything for half the game."
Memorial Gym may not be as well known nationally as being a difficult place to play compared to Allen Fieldhouse, Cameron Indoor and Rupp Arena, but maybe it should be. The last four teams to enter Memorial Gym with a No. 1 ranking all have one thing in common. They each lost. With success like that, I don't think you will find many coaches lining up to play games at Memorial Gym anytime soon.