Ryan Bowman has seen The Pavilion at its zenith.
A junior at Villanova and a member of the school’s pep band, Bowman was in the Wildcats’ basketball stadium just a month after it celebrated its 30th birthday when Kris Jenkins sent a packed house into the stratosphere.
Of course, there was no basketball actually played in the Pavilion that night in 2016. The Final Four was in Texas that year. But The Pavilion was still the only place ‘Nova students would’ve wanted to watch that moment unfold. Because when Villanova plays at the Pavilion, it is home.
“It’s one of the best college basketball experiences I’ve ever been to,” Bowman said. Bowman grew up a Duke fan, so he knows a thing or two about college basketball environments. He saw Coach K notch his 1,000th win. He’s seen a rocking Madison Square Garden. The Pavilion more than holds its own, he said.
Which is what makes this season for fans watching yet another No. 1-ranked Villanova team a unique sort of challenge. The Pavilion hasn’t been used at all this season; instead, it’s shrouded in tarps and full of construction equipment as it undergoes renovations.
The construction means Villanova has spent its entire season so far away from home. The Wildcats have played the majority of their “home” games at Wells Fargo Center, home to the Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia Flyers, a 35-minute drive or hour-long train ride from campus.
The school has organized buses and offered discounts on public transportation passes, but the commitment to trekking all the way to South Philadelphia means Villanova fans have had to up their dedication this year.
“It’s obviously a bigger arena, but it also feels bigger because not as many students can go,” Bowman said. “On a weekday night, it’s kind of hard to take a couple hours out of your day to get there and back. When it’s on campus, you could literally be napping, roll out of bed, and be there in five minutes.
“In October I was expecting it to be kind of a letdown, but there are still those dedicated fans who will make the trek from wherever they are. And the students who love the team, like me, will find a way to get in, no matter what.”
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Jack Brooks, a sophomore who writes about the team for SB Nation’s Villanova site, VU Hoops, said the fans still bring the noise and the chaos at the larger arena.
“The La Salle game this year was pretty close in the second half, and the student section was really into it,” Brooks said. “ And last year I went to the Virginia game and it was just as loud as any Pavilion game I’ve been to. It’s really all about the matchup, and the kind of game.”
But the main difference between the Pavilion and the Wells Fargo Center? Besides the players not being able to run through a jam-packed student section during intros — “The student section is always overflowing,” Bowman said — is that the venues just feel… different.
Stunning number when looking at Villanova's stats. They're 13-1 away from home in 2017-18.— Rob Anderson (@_robanderson) January 29, 2018
VU's 6 neutral wins (several due to Pavilion renovations) lead the nation.
VU's 7 true road wins are tied for 5th-most nationally.
VU's 7 home wins are tied for 125th-most nationally.
The Pavilion, Bowman said, is pleasantly tiny. It seats 6,500, a far cry from Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center, which seats around 22,000, or Kentucky’s Rupp Arena which can hold over 23,000.
“I personally love the way the Pavilion feels so small and intimate,” Bowman said. “It’s not your average stadium. Everything’s compact, the sound carries like you won’t believe, and it just gets insanely loud.”The degree to which the Pavilion’s environment is responsible for Villanova’s home court advantage is up for debate, but there’s no arguing with the numbers: from 2007-08 to 2016-17, Villanova won 136 of 160 games played on its home floor, a winning percentage of .850. Since the beginning of the 2013-14 season, the numbers are even more convincing: 61 wins to just one loss, a win percentage of .983. Even in the program’s lone recent down year, a 13-19 campaign in 2011-12, the Wildcats still managed a .600 win percentage at home.
Take into account the historical average win percentage at home across all DI programs is .667, and it start to dawn on you just how good 'Nova is when it plays at the Pavilion.
Which, perhaps, should serve as a bit of a notice for teams around the country. If you think this Villanova team is good now, just wait until Jay Wright & Co. are back home.