Posted 5 hours, 18 minutes ago
Posted Monday, March 03, 2014 03:41 AM
The Big Dance gets all the headlines; all the media
attention. And it makes sense why that
happens. College basketball is way too
big for the average fan. More than 350
teams in more than 30 conferences are simply too much for non-hardcore hoops aficionados
And then there’s the bracket factor. The entire country fills out brackets. They’re easy to fill out, the seedings make
sense to Joe Public, and after the first round, most of the ‘obscure’ teams are
gone. Those ‘obscure’ teams that survive
are now public darlings, Cinderalla stories that casual fans can understand and
Forget fans – I’m no ‘casual fan’, and if you’re reading
this, you probably aren’t either. We’re sports
bettors. And for serious college
basketball bettors, there’s absolutely no comparison between this week and next
week. This week, we’ve got dozens of ‘Little
Dances’, the conference tournaments that are a sports bettors dream. Next week, for the Big Dance, it’s still a
betting bonanza, but not quite as good.
Here are my Top 6 reasons why.
The Big Dance, start to finish, consists of 67 games. Once the opening weekend is done and we’ve
got a three day break before the Sweet 16, only 15 NCAA Tournament games still
remain. Serious bettors always want more
betting options, not fewer ones.
This week, with all of the Little Dances, on Wednesday and
Thursday alone there will be 84 games to bet on from the ACC, Big 10, Big 12,
Big East, Conference USA, PAC-12, Mountain West, MAC, Big East, Atlantic-10,
American, SEC, Big 12, Southland, MEAC, Patriot League, SWAC, Sun Belt, Big Sky
and Big West Conferences. More games to
bet on equals more chances for good betting opportunities, plain and simple.
Coaches That Don’t
Roy Williams is the poster child for a head coach who simply
doesn’t care about winning (or even advancing) in the ACC Tournament. The running joke in Chapel Hill is that
Williams sets a tee time on the golf course for Saturday every year, when the ACC
semi-finals are played.
Williams quote from 2009 still resonates today: “It's what it is.
I said it's for money, said it's the biggest cocktail party. It's still a
party, I don't care what anybody says. It's a party to make money. ... I loved
it as a fan, I don't love it as much as a coach with the attention the other
tournament gets and the emphasis we try and put on it.”
My numbers show Williams with a 4-16-2 ATS mark in the ACC
tourney since he returned to Chapel Hill.
And he’s certainly not alone in that regard – his ACC counterpart Coach
K hasn’t covered a spread in the ACC tourney since 2011! And, quite frankly, that’s just the tip of
the iceberg, but hey, I’m not going to give my entire list of ‘fade only’ head
coaches in this article. A little bit of
homework goes a long way towards turning profits!
You rarely, if ever, see weak lines in the NCAA Tournament. The oddsmakers have plenty of time to post
their numbers. Every team can be
expected to bring their ‘A’ game. And
the enormous amounts wagered in the Big Dance ensures that the betting markets
will pay full attention on each and every game.
In the Little Dances, none of the above rings true. There are numerous matchups that seem to fall
through the cracks. The oddsmakers have limited time to go through the box
scores from the previous day’s games.
Unlike the Thursday/Saturday or Friday/Sunday Big Dance schedule, the conference
tourney’s don’t get days off. Teams
often tip off less than 24 hours after their previous game ended. Everything is rushed, and that means that you
can and will find weaker numbers to bet into.
And, as I mentioned above, there are more than a handful of
quality teams that cannot be expected to bring their ‘A’ games to the
conference tournaments. In addition,
conference tournaments also have their fair share of ‘dead’ teams that you can
fade in the first round. Bottom tier
squads that run out of gas down the stretch have been ‘bet- againsts’ for weeks, even if their power rating numbers
haven’t bottomed out, still reflecting some early season successes. That gives bettors one more chance to fade
these sorry squads before their long, miserable season is finally over.
Momentum is Real
It happens every year, in multiple conferences. Some mid-level (or worse) team wins their
first tourney game and suddenly goes on a run.
Look at Loyola-Marymount last year.
The Lions went 1-15 in WCC regular season play, then won three straight
in the conference tournament before losing in the Finals to Gonzaga; going 4-0
ATS in a four day span.
In the Big Dance, most Cinderella squads get bounced after a
single upset win. That’s not always the case in the conference tourney’s, where
you can make A LOT of money riding a squad that has suddenly found their mojo
over a three or four game span, especially if you’re making moneyline bets as
well as standard pointspread wagers.
Fatigue and Depth
In the Big Dance, teams play two games (at most, assuming
they survive and advance) in a week. In
the Little Dances, teams can play as many as five games in five days. Obviously, this helps bettors who put the work
in. A nine man rotation trumps a seven
man rotation on the third night of back-to-backs. But many bettors have no idea about depth
concerns – they don’t know the teams well enough. Plain and simple, that factor alone offers a
huge edge for savvy ‘cappers.
It’s not just overall depth either. Teams with balanced attacks seem to be able
to handle major minutes better than teams that rely on one or two stars. Teams that rely on jump shots are likely to
struggle more with fatigue issues (tired legs equals jumpers falling short)
than do teams that pound the ball into the paint, getting high percentage looks
or free throw attempts.
Again, this helps savvy bettors who actually know these
teams. Meanwhile, the pointspreads are
still beings set largely based on long term aggregate numbers using mathematical
algorithms. These fatigue and depth
issues are very real, something that Little Dance bettors can take advantage
of, while Big Dance bettors cannot.
When a team from the ACC matches up against a team from the
Big 12 (or the Mountain West or any other conference), we can guesstimate which
conferences are going to be ‘bet-on’ or ‘bet-against’, but that’s all it is –
an educated guess. But in conference
tournaments, we know how these teams match up against one another because they’ve
played each other before, often twice.
If you’re a game watcher, you’ve probably seen many of these
matchups already at least once this year.
Even if you haven’t seen them, you’ve got box score and play-by-play
data to help you understand what happened in previous meetings, and there’s no
guessing game in regards to relative conference strength. Taking out those ‘X-factors’
is a benefit for bettors – the more we actually know about the matchups, the more
likely we’ll be able to predict winners and margins of victory.
Again, I’m not saying for a moment that the NCAA Tournament won’t
offer numerous solid wagering opportunities.
But I firmly believe there’s more moneymaking potential this week compared
to next week, even though the workload between now and Selection Sunday is
positively brutal, with games tipping off every day by 9 AM here in Vegas; often
lasting until midnight. Now that’s ‘wall-to-wall’
Posted Monday, February 24, 2014 09:50 AM
In Part 1 of
this article last week, I took a basic look at the profile of the past 16 NCAA
champions. From that profile, I was able to make a ‘short list’ of
potential champs in 2014, consisting of the following 18 teams: Cincinnati, Louisville, Virginia, Syracuse,
Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Iowa St, Creighton, Villanova, Michigan, Michigan
State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, UCLA, Florida and Kentucky.
since last week, two of those 18 teams have been bounced from consideration,
including one of the co- favorites at any sportsbook in Vegas – John Calipari’s
Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky lost two
straight last week; Iowa has lost three of their last four. Both teams are now above the seven loss
cut-off line and can be eliminated.
next step in the elimination process is to look at the team’s records away from
championship is not won on a team’s home floor. Even with a favorable
location one weekend, a team is still going to have to win four ‘neutral site’
games in order to cut down the nets in Arlington on April 7th. And the
best predictive evidence that I’ve seen for future success in neutral or
hostile environments is previous success is neutral or hostile environments.
years, we’ll find a sub .500 road record or two among the list of potential
champs, an instant elimination. This year is no exception, and again, one
of the co-favorites gets bounced early – Mike Krzyzewski ‘s Duke Blue Devils,
who have lost away from home to Arizona, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Clemson, Kansas
and North Carolina already – exactly the type of teams they’ll be facing away
from home in March. And Iowa State has lost five times on the road in Big 12
play alone. Both squads get eliminated here.
we move to defensive acumen, based on one of the more under-rated stats in all
of college basketball – defensive field goal percentage allowed.
ranked in the Top 10 in this category two years ago, and Louisville was in the Top
30 last year. This year, Top 30
defensive teams include Virginia, Arizona, Cincinnati, Michigan State and Louisville. North Carolina, Florida, Villanova and
Syracuse are in the next 30, with Kansas and Creighton just outside.
#114. Wisconsin is #117. Michigan is #172. Defensive acumen is paramount in March, so we’ll
toss these three teams from the ranks of contenders here.
continue with the statistical profile of a champion, interior play is next on
the list. The
statistic that I like to use here is rebounding margin.
Kentucky was a Top 10 rebounding team two years ago. Louisville was Top 50 last year.
If you don’t
think rebounding margin is crucial, note this fact: Arizona, Kansas, Virginia, Cincinnati,
Michigan State, Villanova, Florida and North Carolina all rank in the Top 25
nationally in rebounding margin. That’s eight of the eleven teams still under
consideration! The three other remaining
teams – Syracuse, Louisville and Creighton -- are all at a competitive
disadvantage. I’ll eliminate them here.
with NBA first round picks in their lineup tend to do well come tournament time.
year, Louisville had Gorgiu Dieng. Two years ago, Kentucky had Anthony Davis
and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went #1 and #2, followed by Terrence Jones, Marquis
Teague, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb among the Top 46 picks. In 2011,
UConn only had one first rounder in the draft, but he was the guy who carried
the team – point guard Kemba Walker. Duke’s title team in 2010 featured
future NBA-ers Kyle Singler, Miles and Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. Following their championship in 2009, North
Carolina sent Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington into the first
round, followed by Danny Green in the second round. Kansas got three
players drafted following their title, including Brandon Rush in the lottery,
Darrel Arthur later in the first round and Mario Chalmers at the beginning of
the second round. The year before Florida had three lottery picks – Al
Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah.
will lose Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the lottery, with Wayne Selden a
likely first rounder as well. Michigan State has Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and
Keith Appling all likely to be drafted in the Top 40 picks. Arizona has Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson. Florida has NBA talent with Chris Walker,
Casey Prather and Patric Young.
Carolina has no first rounders. James McAdoo and Marcus Paige have not lived up
to expectations and the Brice Johnson/Joel James/Isaiah Hicks low post trio
just aren’t NBA ready unless one of them has a ‘Mitch McGary’ type breakout
like Michigan’s big man did last March. Cincinnati
has no draft picks. Virginia has no
draft picks. Villanova has no draft
picks. I’m eliminating those four teams
State, Arizona, Florida are my last four teams standing, and what a great Final
Four this quartet would provide if they all get there! But three of the four still have to get
I’ll make my next cuts based on point guard play, using
assist-to-turnover ratio as the key stat.
the opening line from last year’s first paragraph of this segment: “Louisville’s
Peyton Siva is exactly what I’m looking for – a battle tested senior leader
with a better than 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.”
State hasn’t won back-2-back games since mid-January, but they’ve got Keith
Appling at the point. And Appling, once again, is exactly what I’m looking for
-- a battle tested senior leader with a better than 2:1 assist-to-turnover
TJ McConnell redshirted last year after transferring from Duquesne. This season as a fourth year junior, he’s
dished 5.6 assists with only 1.9 turnovers per game. And Kansas has battle tested junior Naadir
Tharpe at the point, also with a better than 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
is the weak link here. Senior Scottie
Wilbekin is a natural shooting guard still playing at the point, averaging
fewer than four assists per game. His
backup true frosh Kasey Hill, has struggled throughout the SEC campaign. The Gators
are really good, but they’re not good enough!
final stat? Free throw shooting.
Memphis fan will tell you how important free throw shooting actually is come
tournament time – the inability to close out the national championship game
from the charity stripe cost the Tigers a title at the Alamodome in San Antonio
70.7% of their foul shots, ranked #147 out of 351 D-1A teams. Michigan State is
ranked #207, hitting under 69%. But
Arizona is the worst of the bunch, making less than two thirds of their tries
from the charity stripe. The Wildcats are the 296th ranked free
throw shooting team in the country. At
some point in this tournament, those foul shooting woes are going to bite Sean
leaves me with two teams remaining. I’ll call for a Michigan State - Kansas
championship game matchup with the Spartans coming out on top. Michigan
State has star power, depth, experience and talent. They rebound, play
defense and win games consistently away from home. Tom Izzo’s squad meets
all the criteria that has been effective at predicting past championship. Plain and
simple, despite their modest late season skid, the Michigan State Spartans have
what it takes to win it all.
Posted Monday, February 10, 2014 03:21 AM
Who Has What It Takes to Win the Big Dance in 2014?
History shows us many things about what it takes to be a champion. I write this article every year, and every year except for one, I have been able to identify the eventual NCAA national champion among my elite level teams.
Last year was no exception. Here’s what I wrote about Louisville in my ‘Who Has What It Takes’ article from 2013: “The Cardinals have star power, depth, experience and talent. They rebound, play defense and win games consistently away from home. Rick Pitino’s squad meets all the criteria that has been effective at predicting past championship. Plain and simple, Louisville has what it takes to win it all.” Louisville, of course, was the last team standing in the 68 team field last year, winning the national championship over Michigan.
Past predictions do not necessarily indicate future success, but I’ll stand by my track record in this article. Remember, as always, this gets written before the regular season is over, before the conference tournaments, before the seedings are announced and before a single tournament game has been played.
I’ve nailed the winner of the NCAA tournament four times in the last seven years, correctly predicting Florida in ’07, Kansas in ’08 and North Carolina in ’09 as well as Louisville last year. I did NOT predict Duke in 2010, and didn’t even have UConn in the discussion in 2011. In 2012, I picked Kansas to win the title, but they lost the championship game to Kentucky.
Here is a list of the last 16 NCAA champions and the teams they beat in the title game: Kentucky over Utah in ’98, UConn over Duke in ’99, Michigan St over Florida in 2000, Duke over Arizona in ’01, Maryland over Indiana in ’02, Syracuse over Kansas in ’03, UConn over Georgia Tech in ’04, North Carolina over Illinois in ’05, Florida over UCLA in ’06, Florida over Ohio State in ’07, Kansas over Memphis in ’08, North Carolina over Michigan State in ’09, Duke over Butler in 2010, UConn over Butler in 2011 and Kentucky over Kansas in 2012 and Louisville over Michigan last year.
15 of those 16 champions had very specific abilities, a very specific track record and a very specific statistical profile as a team that allowed them to go all the way. In Part 1 of this article, I’ll take a look at that statistical profile and make a ‘short list’ of potential NCAA champs. In Part 2 next week, I’ll go through that ‘short list’ team by team, eliminating them one by one until we reach the last team standing.
Cinderella’s have reached the championship game. Florida in 2000, Indiana in 2002 and the Butler teams from 2010 and 2011 stand out as the teams that were not among the top 16 seeds in the tournament but were still good enough to get a shot at the title.
But those Cinderella’s have been unable to seal the deal – the eventual champion has been seeded no lower than #3 in every single year dating back to 1997, when Arizona won it all as a #4 seed. You’ll have to go all the way back to 1988 for a real longshot, when Larry Brown guided the Kansas Jayhawks to a title as a #6 seed. 20 of the last 23 national champions have been #1 or #2 seeds. Even the one I missed -- UConn in 2011 -- was a #3 seed, a factor that I couldn’t and didn’t predict at the end of February when the Huskies were in the midst of a 4-7 slump to close out the regular season.
To earn that type of a seed, the eventual champion must have been an elite level team all year. Prior to UConn’s title win in 2011, none of the previous thirteen champions had more than seven losses. To win the Big Dance, teams have to be better than good, or even very good. Winning six straight games over three weekends requires greatness, and great teams don’t lose more than seven games throughout the course of the campaign.
Each of the past 16 champions was from one of the six ‘major’ conferences (now seven with the Big East/American Conference split). The mid-majors tend to measure success with Sweet 16 berths, not Final Four trips. We have seen several exceptions to that rule, like Butler’s string of upsets to reach the title game as a Horizon League squad or Wichita State and VCU’s remarkable runs to the Final Four.
George Mason enjoyed an amazing run to the Final Four eight years ago from the Colonial Athletic Conference; a big enough shocker that we still talk about it. Memphis made the championship game from Conference USA in 2008 and Utah made it from the WAC in 1998 (at the time), but those are clearly the exceptions, not the rule.
Basically, if a team is not from the Big East, American, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC or PAC-12, they aren’t facing enough tough competition on a nightly basis to get them ready for an extended tournament run. Sorry Wichita State – you’re not winning the title this year, despite your lofty ranking. It’s a similar story for the likes of St Louis, San Diego St, Gonzaga, VCU, New Mexico, Harvard, Green Bay or Stephen F Austin. Those elite mid-majors are not going to make my ‘potential champions’ list, even though several of them have managed to crack the Top 25 and have legitimate Sweet 16 potential.
Using just the seven losses and major conference criteria alone, we can narrow the list of potential NCAA tournament winners down to the following group of 25 teams: Cincinnati, Louisville, SMU, Memphis, UConn, Virginia, Syracuse, Duke, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Kansas, Iowa St, Oklahoma, Texas, Creighton, Villanova, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, Arizona, UCLA, Florida and Kentucky.
This glaring fact stands out – no team has won a national title without earning a #3 seed or better since 1997. So let’s whittle down that list of 25 right here, starting with seven teams that have virtually no shot to get seeded that high: Memphis, Oklahoma, Ohio St, Pitt, Texas, UConn and SMU. All seven of those squads fall into the ‘good, not great’ category. And most importantly for our purposes, those four squads are all projected to be #6 seeds or higher right now. I’ll bounce them from consideration here.
That leaves me with 18 teams to discuss in Part 2 of this article. I’ll wager dollars to donuts that the eventual NCAA champion will come from this list of 18: Cincinnati, Louisville, Virginia, Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Iowa St, Creighton, Villanova, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, UCLA, Florida and Kentucky.
Posted Monday, February 03, 2014 10:22 AM
Last week I wrote about the four best pointspread teams in the
country in college hoops this year – Cleveland State, Villanova, Wichita State
and Utah. Between the four, they
combined to go 7-1 ATS over the past week, continuing to cover spreads even
after doing so consistently for the past three months. In other words, the
markets still haven’t caught up with these teams.
This week, I’m taking the opposite approach; examining the
very worst pointspread teams in all of college basketball. Why are they so bad against the spread? Will they continue to be money losers as
February rolls into March? And what statistical profile do these teams have in
common that will help us identify them as early as possible next year? Let’s take a look!
I did a version of this column last year at this same time
(second week of February). At that time,
the single worst pointspread team in all of college basketball was Indiana-
Purdue Indianapolis, abbreviated IUPUI. This year, IUPUI isn’t the single worst
pointspread team in college hoops only because they’re tied with South Alabama
and LaSalle at the bottom of the ATS standings.
This isn’t supposed to happen. In theory, the betting markets are going to
gradually de-value squads that aren’t covering pointspreads, making it highly
unlikely that the same team can be an absolute bottom feeder ATS two years in a
row. But at 5-21 SU, 5-15 ATS, the Jaguars
once again have failed to live up to market expectations.
The Jaguars play in the Summit League, on the added board in
college hoops – exclusive territory for sharps.
The type of bettors who wager on schools like IUPUI aren’t likely to be
perusing aggregate ATS records very often.
The biggest college basketball betting syndicates are driven by computer
generated power rating numbers. If their
mathematical calculations say to bet on any particular team in any particular
game, they will, plain and simple.
IUPUI has virtually no homecourt edge, failing to cover a
single pointspread at home all year.
Perhaps they were overvalued after suffering a pair of ‘tighter than
expected’ November losses at Missouri and Northwestern along with a SU win over
Bradley. Since that win, the Jaguars
have covered only two spreads in twelve lined games, despite being underdogs in
each and every one of those contests.
IUPUI has a pretty miserable statistical profile, but no one
number really stands out. They’re well
below average on offense and defense, rebound poorly and commit more turnovers
than assists. It’s a fairly standard
profile for a ‘bad’ college basketball team, and bad teams struggle to cover
numbers more often than not.
While IUPUI didn’t have any expectations – not even of
mediocrity – heading into the season, South
Alabama did. These Jaguars returned
four starters from a 17 win team last year; a squad that went 14-6 in Sun Belt
Conference action and made the CIT postseason tournament.
There were no warning signs of imminent ATS failure as the
season began – the Jaguars went 4-4 ATS through their first eight lined
games. But to illustrate where they
were, value wise, look no further than their second game of the season, when
they were only +6 at Texas. South Alabama
lost that game by seven, blowing a 14 point halftime lead in the process. Just for comparison’s sake, note that Texas
was -6 at home against 16-7 Kansas State two weeks ago. Kansas State would be in the range of an 18-20
point favorite over South Alabama if these two teams met on a neutral floor
now. That shows us rather clearly how
dramatically the Jaguars were overvalued early!
Since that 4-4 ATS start, the Jaguars have gone 1-11 both
straight up and vs. the pointspread.
They’ve been favored five times in Sun Belt play, winning outright only
once in those five games. And, at 0-fer
the season on the highway, losing all nine lined games ATS, the Jaguars lack of
experience at the point guard position has clearly been a major detriment to
their success. South Alabama’s statistical profile shows more weakness on the
offensive end of the court than in any other area.
projected to be just a notch or two behind Atlantic-10 heavyweights VCU and St
Louis coming into the campaign. The Explorers
certainly haven’t been horrible: 4-5 in conference play, 12-11 overall. But they’ve been ATS bottom feeders from Day
1 this year, opening up the campaign by losing eight of their first nine against
the number. They’ve been nearly as bad
of late, covering only one spread in their last eight ballgames; unable to win
by big margins or lose by small ones. Like South Alabama, LaSalle’s statistical
profile shows more weakness on the offensive end of the court than in any other
You could make a case that Central Florida is the single worst team ATS – on a percentage
basis, they’ve been a 20 percent proposition; just 3-12 ATS. But because the three teams listed above have
lost more net units (each squad 5-15 ATS), I’ve listed UCF as #4. The
Knights were a 20 win team in Conference USA last year and returned four
starters. To illustrate their market
value to open the campaign, it’s surely worth noting that UCF was favored over
Florida State in November. And with an
early season SU win as eight point underdogs at Miami-FL, the markets expected
good things from Donnie Jones’ Knights.
But the AAC is one heck of a lot better than C-USA, and UCF
has been a dramatically overvalued commodity as a result. The Knights have had precious little
homecourt edge, covering only one spread in Orlando all year. And an inability to make free throws – as a
team, hitting less than 60 percent for the season – has left them on the wrong
end of the pointspread standings in conference play. Their lone cover in ten conference games came
in a 17 point loss at Louisville when the Knights were catching 19.5.
Major conference schools that are bottom feeders ATS include
Boston College, Notre Dame, Pitt and
Purdue. BC has been pretty awful from the get-go,
opening the season 2-11 ATS, but they’ve been money winners for the better part
of the last month. Notre Dame lost leading
scorer and assist man Jerian Grant just prior to the start of ACC play and they’ve
had no homecourt edge, covering only two spreads in 14 home games. Purdue was an ATS bottom feeder last year as
well, unable to make headway in the loaded Big 10.
Pitt is a fascinating team to discuss. Their statistical profile has been too GOOD;
ranking among the nation’s elites defensively, particularly against their
newfound ACC foes that aren’t used to a Big East style of physical defense. Jamie Dixon’s squad has dominated the glass
and hit free throws. And the Panthers offense has been much more efficient than
it’s been in recent seasons.
The result of all of those stellar statistics is a market
valuation that’s simply been too high.
The Panthers spent a good portion of the season ranked among the Top 10
teams in well-respected power ratings from Ken Pom and Jeff Sagarin. So
despite a complete absence of signature wins in non-conference play (Stanford
and Cincinnati were their only two games with single digit pointspreads and
they lost SU to the Bearcats), Pitt entered ACC play valued as a truly elite
That market valuation didn’t decline one iota after they won
their first four conference games, three by double digit margins, then took
Syracuse to the wire in the Carrier Dome. But Pitt has been a hard-luck ATS
squad. They’ve failed to cover spreads
by a single basket or less four times in conference play and eight times
overall since the season began. Just a
little bit of overvaluation due to that stellar statistical profile has cost
Panthers backers plenty!
The Super Bowl is in the rear view mirror after Sunday’s huge
Seattle blowout, which can only mean one thing – college hoops is on center
stage for the next eight weeks. I’ve
been writing game previews for ESPN.com/Insider, but I’ve yet to write a true
‘college basketball overview’ column so far this season. It’s time!
I’m going take a look at the four very best ‘regular board’ pointspread
teams in the country in this week’s column. Elite level teams aren’t necessarily
pointspread winners, and bottom feeders can cash ticket after ticket if the
betting markets set numbers that allow them to hang within the number as big
underdogs. And the very best pointspread
teams tend to be under-the-radar type squads, like the single best ATS team in
college hoops thusfar in the 2013-14 campaign.
has a decent record, sitting in a second place tie in the Horizon League
standings with a 6-3 mark in conference; 15-9 SU overall. If the NCAA tournament started today, Gary
Waters’ Vikings wouldn’t even sniff an at-large bid – they’ll need to win the
league tournament to go dancing next month.
And yet Cleveland State leads the nation with 16 pointspread covers in
21 lined games.
The Vikings showed us early that they were capable of
exceeding expectations, in large part thanks to their defensive effort. They faced Kentucky at Rupp Arena in
Lexington in November. Cleveland State
shot less than 36 percent from the floor. They took 20 fewer free throws than the
Wildcats did and were outrebounded by seven boards. Yet as 24 point underdogs, they led at the
half and hung tough for the full 40 minutes, losing by only seven.
Basically, Cleveland State hasn’t stopped covering
since. They’ve also managed to stay
under the radar; retaining their market value.
The Vikings don’t get many national TV opportunities, so bettors don’t
see them regularly. And despite consistently
cashing winning bets, they haven’t gone on any extended ATS winning streaks to
attract market attention, with their longest ATS winning streak only four games
There are four stats that stand out for Cleveland
State. First they don’t turn the ball
over excessively, getting steady play at the point from returning starter
Charlie Lee, who led the Horizon League in assists last year, as well as from
Penn State transfer Trey Lewis. They’ve
been strong defensively, particularly from beyond the arc. The Vikings clean up the glass, averaging a
+5 rebounding margin.
The fourth stat is three point shooting. Cleveland State is ranked #11 in the country,
hitting better than 40 percent of their tries from beyond the arc. Put it all together and suddenly it’s not so
hard to understand why a team that has played to their expected form (the Vikings
were projected to be looking up at Green Bay in the Horizon League standings,
which they are) have developed into pointspread juggernauts. And as we’ll see, their statistical recipe
for ATS success is not unique when we look at other top money earners.
When it comes to a straight percentage of pointspreads
covered this year, Utah stands at
the top of the list even after their four point loss in OT as two point
underdogs at Colorado last Saturday. The
Utes are only 3-6 SU in PAC-12 play. Like
Cleveland State, that’s right where they were supposed to be – only USC and
Washington State were projected to finish below the Utes this year, and those
are the only two teams currently beneath them in the standings.
Yet the Utes have been a pointspread machine, cashing at an
80 percent clip for the full season.
Again, the signs were there early.
Despite facing a litany of weak foes, the Utes vastly exceeded expectations
in both non-conference step-up games.
They lost by only two at Boise as double digit underdogs, then beat up
BYU by 17, also as an underdog. The
trend towards covering as a dog is still very much in play – their only
non-cover all year when catching points came in that aforementioned OT loss to
What do the stats tell us?
For one, they tell us that Utah takes good shots and makes those shots
at a high percentage. Among major
conference teams, only Gonzaga and Kansas have shot better than Utah’s 50
percent clip this year. They rank #12 nationally in free throw shooting
percentage; covering more than once due to their ability to hit shots at the
charity stripe in the final minute of the game.
Like Cleveland State, the Utes defensive stat that really
stands out is their three point shooting percentage allowed, ranked in the Top
20 nationally. Like Cleveland State,
Utah has a strong positive rebounding margin of nearly eight boards per game. And like Cleveland State, Utah has a pair of
steady hands manning the point, with both JUCO-transfer Delon Wright and last
year’s returning starter Brandon Taylor avoiding the ATS killing plague of ‘turnovers
It’s not just under-the-radar teams at the top of the ATS
standings. In fact, the next team on the
list – Wichita State – has both been
nationally ranked and reasonably hyped all year. Two years ago, the Shockers won the NIT. Last year, they reached the Final Four in the
Big Dance. And despite modest personnel
losses, Wichita State was lumped with mid-major juggernauts Gonzaga and VCU in the
preseason rankings (#16) and they’ve moved steadily up ever since.
When a team opens the season 23-0, they’re supposed to cover
pointspreads. But when a well-hyped
mid-major coming off a Final Four campaign covers spreads for three months at a
75 percent clip; it’s noteworthy. The
statistical profile? Excellent free
throw shooting, strong rebounding and stifling defense from both inside and
outside the arc, quite comparable to what we’ve seen from fellow ATS
juggernauts Cleveland State and Utah. It
is worth noting, however, that Wichita St went 0-2 ATS last week, failing to
cover a pair of inflated double digit pointspreads; an indicator that the
market may have finally caught up with them.
The last team that I am going to profile here is a squad
that was obviously way better than projections from Day 1 for anyone watching –
the Villanova Wildcats. ‘Nova was
projected to be a middling team in the new Big East; a notch or two behind
Creighton, Georgetown and Marquette.
The Wildcats first made some real noise in the Bahamas over
Thanksgiving, pulling upsets over Kansas and Iowa on back-to-back nights. But the betting markets didn’t really
appreciate what those two wins said about Jay Wright’s squad; a 20 win team
last year that got bounced from the Big Dance in their opener. ‘Nova won their next four all by 19 points or
more, just blowing teams out in December.
Following an ugly loss at Syracuse – a game that they led by 18 early,
but got outscored 71-37 the rest of the way – ‘Nova was again disrespected by the
betting markets. The result? Six pointspread covers in their last eight
games, a team that hasn’t stopped cashing winning bets, despite their lofty national
ranking and ample TV time.
Villanova’s statistical profile has many commonalities with
the other three teams on this list. The Wildcats
make free throws. They dominate the
glass. They play defense, holding foes
to 40 percent shooting for the season. And
they don’t commit turnovers in bunches.
These four teams are the top four ‘regular board’ ATS squads
this season. Their statistical profile
is eerily similar. But their respective
situations are completely different.
Cleveland State is a national afterthought; a solid but unspectacular
mid-major that has simply been priced wrong from the get-go. Utah is a relatively weak squad that hasn’t
been quite as bad as they were thought to be.
Wichita State was expected to be elite and they’ve been elite, but the
markets under-reacted to their extraordinary success. And Villanova has been elite from Day 1, but
the markets took a very long time to reflect their abilities.
Next week? The
pointspread bottom feeders!