The Super Bowl is in the rear view mirror after Sunday’s
wild Ravens victory, 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 for the last month, but I’ve
yet to write a true ‘college basketball overview’ column for any publication so
far this season. That streak ends here.
I’m going take a look at the very best pointspread ‘regular
board’ teams in the country in this week’s column. The list of ATS juggernauts is likely to
surprise many people due to it’s diversity.
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. Look no further than the single best ATS team
in the nation so far this season.
I’ll wager that less than a dozen people in the country knew
that Fordham is the #1 ATS team in all of D-1 basketball this year; 14-5 against
the number. The Rams are 6-16 SU, just
2-5 in Atlantic-10 play. This is nothing
new or different – the Rams went a combined 17-40 SU in head coach Tom Pecora’s
first two years on the job. They’re a
bad offensive team, hitting less than 41% from the floor for the season while
missing more than one out of three free throw attempts. They’re a mediocre defensive team both inside
and outside the arc as well.
But the Rams have three factors working in their favor as an
under-the-radar ATS juggernaut. First
and foremost, they are truly under-the-radar; favored only twice in their 19
lined games so far this season.
Secondly, they are getting solid point guard play from leading scorer
and assist man Branden Frazier. And
third, they’re a solid rebounding team, even without senior forward Chris
Gaston in the lineup; consistently winning the battle of the boards.
A team that consistently loses, but loses by small enough
margins to cover pointspreads, can retain their ATS value indefinitely, as long
as they don’t become demoralized from the steady stream of defeats. There’s no reason to think that Fordham is
going to change their stripes over the next month, still offering legitimate
value for their backers down the stretch of the A-10 campaign.
Miami-FL ranks #2 in the pointspread standings at 13-4 ATS. You could make a case for Miami being #1, with
a better ATS winning percentage than Fordham, but the Rams have more covers so
I gave them the nod. Miami is the
antithesis of Fordham in many regards. The
Hurricanes are really good, still perfect in ACC play with an 8-0 SU mark to
open their conference campaign; sitting at 17-3 overall.
Head coach Jim Larranaga – the same guy who coached George
Mason into the Final Four a few years back – has the much more traditional
recipe for a pointspread juggernaut. The
Canes have exceeded pointspread expectations because they are winning SU in
every role—at home and on the road, as favorites and as underdogs. This is a great team that’s been priced all
season as a good team, a classic ATS success situation.
Miami lost their biggest star (and biggest player) when
center Reggie Johnson got hurt, and the betting markets gave them too little
credit during his month long absence.
And a single bad tournament performance in Honolulu over Christmas --smacked
by Arizona and knocked off by Indiana State – helped them retain their value as
ACC play began.
The betting markets have caught up with the ‘Canes – their last
two wins (against NC State and Virginia Tech) both finished right around the
number. But there’s reason to think that
Miami can continue to cover pointspreads at a solid percentage down the
stretch, particularly in ‘step-up-in-class’ games against the likes of ACC
favorites Duke, North Carolina and NC State, all of whom get much more national
exposure than the long-dormant Miami program.
Like Fordham, San Francisco isn’t on anyone’s radar. The Dons don’t play on TV. They play in a conference where teams like
Gonzaga, St Mary’s, Santa Clara and BYU are, and have been, the class of the
WCC. They regularly play to home crowds
that barely number 1000 at War Memorial Gymnasium. It’s not exactly a dominant home court – the Dons
have lost five of their last seven there in SU fashion, including losses to the
likes of Holy Cross and San Diego.
But Rex Walters’ squad is 13-5 ATS for the full season, including
a 10-2 pointspread mark in their last dozen lined games. They are an efficient offensive team, and a
great three point shooting team, connecting on nearly 40% of their tries from
downtown. Each of their top six scorers
has at least 21 made three pointers this year, and big man Cole Dickerson is a
low post difference maker.
But it’s surely worth noting that six of the Dons 13
pointspread covers have come by a bucket or less, just squeaking in under the
number. That means San Francisco has
been as lucky as they’ve been good, which indicates they’re no surefire
candidate to close out the season on the red hot pointspread run they’ve been
on for the last six weeks.
Florida was a dominant team last year, winning 26 games
before losing a hard fought battle against Louisville in the Elite Eight round
of the Big Dance. Yet the betting
markets didn’t respect the Gators enough coming into the 2012-13 campaign, as they
annihilated some pretty good teams including Wisconsin, Marquette, Middle
Tennessee State and Florida State over the first month of the season. After a modest ATS cooldown, the Gators got
back on the winning pointspread track with seven consecutive wins and covers to
open SEC play.
Florida is a great team, and people knew that they’d be very
good coming into the year. So how have
they managed to cover pointspreads at a Top 5 clip? Two ways.
First, this is a VERY down year for the SEC. The Gators have been double digit favorites
in every single conference game thusfar, and they’ve still been dominating
ATS. And secondly, the Gators are
positively stifling their foes on the defensive end of the court, routinely
holding teams in the 40’s or 50’s. They
are one of the Top 5 teams in the country in defensive field goal percentage
allowed, giving up an average of less than 18 made baskets per game. Throw in a +8 rebounding margin and voila –
even elite teams that everybody expected to be elite can still cover
pointspreads in bunches.
A quick glance at some other ATS juggernauts among the ‘regular
board’ D-1 teams shows that Florida is the exception, not the rule. The only other nationally ranked Top 10
pointspread team is Creighton; a squad that leads the nation in shooting
percentage, connecting at a 52% clip from the floor. Doug McDermott’s exceptional long range shooting
opens up the low post for high percentage looks from Gregory Echenique and point
guard Grant Gibbs is truly a top notch distributor.
Most of the other top ATS teams are weak or middling teams
like Troy. The Trojans are 10-13 SU, in
last place in the Sun Belt East. But a
team with a constantly adjusting rotation – ten different players have started
at least two games this year – and a limited talent base hasn’t attracted much
marketplace support in a conference primarily bet by wiseguys. So Troy’s propensity for tight games – 16 of which
have been decided by seven points or less including four in OT – has allowed
them to hang within many inflated numbers.
Air Force, Wake Forest, Indiana State, Villanova and Utah
are other teams that have cashed at a 65% clip or better through the first three
months of the season. Don’t expect a Big
Dance bid from any of those middling squads without a significant winning SU
hot streak between now and selection Sunday.
And should any of those squads suddenly rip off five or six consecutive
victories, the markets aren’t likely to sleep on them for very long – from a
pointspread perspective, that entire grouping is better off with a series of
tight losses than a series of tight wins.
Next week? The pointspread