The Dome Effect


The seats are packed, the arena is colossal, and the energy levels are just about as high as the ceiling of the dome. It was quite an unfamiliar and electrifying setting for the Gonzaga Bulldogs as they prepared for a decisive battle with the UCLA Bruins in the Sweet 16 on Friday in Houston’s NRG Stadium.

And though it wasn’t too pretty, the Zags pulled out the victory, defeating the Bruins by a final score of 74-62, marking the first time Gonzaga has reached the Elite Eight since their Cinderella run back in 1999.

Mar 27, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Isaac Hamilton (10) shoots against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos (4) during the first half in the semifinals of the south regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

But the purpose of this piece isn’t to recap the hard-fought successes of Mark Few’s squad. Rather, it’s to take a deeper look into the “not so pretty” aspect of the game. The Zags came into this game shooting 41% from the three point line. Shooting the trey has been a specialty for the Bulldogs all season long, but in this matchup, GU went an atrocious 3-19 from behind the arc.

Sounds horrific, right? Hang on a sec: UCLA decided to match the Bulldogs in this category, going 3-13 from the three point line, with all three of their treys coming in the last minute and a half of regulation as desperation shots. … What’s the deal?

Even Duke and Utah, who matched up after Gonzaga’s victory, could barely get any of their shots to fall (even though Duke eventually came out victorious). As ESPN noted on their Twitter page, after 1.5 games played in the NRG Stadium, teams shot a combined 8-41, or 19.5%, from three. It’s weird. So, it was time to do some research.

And whadaya know. Turns out, basketball teams have a history of under-performing in domes, or NFL arenas that offer a vast change in scenery and setting to what NCAA players are used to. I had no idea how prevalent of an issue this was, but boy am I aware of it now. Year after year, playing in domes has had a negative effect on college basketball teams competing in the second weekend of the tournament.

The most prominent example of this took place in the 2011 Championship game, when the Connecticut Huskies defeated the Butler Bulldogs to win the national title. In NRG Stadium, UConn (WHO WON THE GAME) went 1-11 from three point land. Butler shot 9-33 from behind the arc, and even went an appalling 3-31 in two-point territory, shooting 18% from the floor.  I mean… what? In a Championship matchup?!

As The Blade’s Kyle Rowland noted in an article from 2012, a USA Today study, “found that during the 2011 NCAA Tournament shooting percentages lagged greatly in domes when compared to basketball arenas. Shooting percentages in domes were 37 percent while percentage in games played in arenas skyrocketed to 47 percent.”

So why is this? One notable difference that has been discussed is the change in depth perception. Think about it – taking a corner three in front of thousands of filled seats that are pushed farther away from the court is bound to mess with some players’ heads. It creates an entirely different atmosphere.

More from 2015 NCAA Tournament

As Rowland later noted, it takes a strong mental effect on teams and forces them to rely on some strong muscle memory when working to make the shots they’re used to hitting on a regular basis. This phenomena is known as the “Dome Effect.” And it’s apparently happening year after year, single-handedly rendering some of the nation’s most effective shooters helpless from the floor, taking Bryce Alford, Kevin Pangos, and Kyle Wiltjer as its most recent victims.

This begs the question: Why in the world does the NCAA keep hosting games in domes? Sure, it allows for more seating and opportunities for folks to experience NCAA Tournament games in person, but is it worth it for teams to have significantly weaker offensive performances? I certainly don’t think so.

But then again, I’m pretty new to this topic. For all you Dome Effect experts out there, I’d love to hear some feedback with some more valuable information on this phenomena. I’m curious to see what other crazy things have happened as a result of it. And I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t wait to see how the Zags react to the Dome Effect in their monumental matchup with the Duke Blue Devils on Sunday.