College Basketball Mid-Major Betting Report: Breaking Down Winthrop, Grand Canyon & Davidson
Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Winthrop Eagles guard Russell Jones.
As we continue our look into teams from lesser conferences, this week’s check-in takes a deeper dive into three programs that could be pesky at the Big Dance if they can earn their respective ways into the field.
Each of these teams can hang its hat on certain strengths that would be very valuable in March. None of the three are on the precipice of an at-large bid, so they’ll also have some intrigue for bettors in conference tournament play.
Let’s take a look at these interesting teams and their chances.
Previous Mid-Major Reports
- UC Santa Barbara, Kent State & Louisiana Tech (Feb. 18)
- Vermont, VCU & Belmont (Feb. 16)
- Wright State, St. Bonaventure & San Diego State (Feb. 11)
- BYU, Saint Mary’s & San Francisco (Feb. 9)
- Boise State, Abilene Christian & Colgate (Feb. 4)
- Marshall, Furman & Dayton (Feb. 1)
- Richmond & Western Kentucky (Jan. 28)
- Saint Louis, Toledo & Colorado State (Jan. 26)
- Drake, Loyola-Chicago & Utah State (Jan. 19)
Like many college basketball teams, the Eagles are experiencing 2020-21 very differently than they might have in a different season. Winthrop currently sits safely atop the Big South Conference at 17-1 in league play.
The two teams trailing Winthrop in second place are just 12-6 in the conference, and no team in the Big South ranks within 60 places of Winthrop in KenPom’s Adjusted efficiency metric rankings.
In a typical year, it might have held on to hopes of an at-large bid. This year, because of pandemic-related schedule changes, Winthrop played only three non-conference games and none came against power conference foes.
Thanks to a strength of schedule outside the top 300 in the nation, a Winthrop team that’s a single bucket against UNC Asheville away from being undefeated will hang its Big Dance hopes on the conference tournament.
Bracketology aggregator Bracket Matrix lists Winthrop as a No. 13 seed, even prior to the arrival of bid thieves and the craziness of Championship Week.
If they are able to take care of business and reach the Big Dance, Winthrop will make for a dangerous high seed in any first-round matchup. The Eagles play fast and have a deep bench. More than 41% of Winthrop’s minutes go to non-starters, which is 16th-highest in the nation.
Eleven different Winthrop players have accounted for more than a quarter of available minutes this season. Those fresh legs help Winthrop clean the glass — the Eagles rank in the top 15 in the country in both offensive and defensive rebound rate.
Playing at the 13th-fastest tempo in the nation requires reliable depth. The Eagles push the ball in transition, with the seventh-shortest average offensive possession length in Division I.
Even if Winthrop doesn’t play Cinderella this season, it should be earmarked by bettors with an eye on the over in any postseason game it plays.
Grand Canyon Antelopes
Bryce Drew sees my mention of COVID-19 scheduling changes about 20-1 Winthrop and laughs. Grand Canyon is just 13-4 this season, playing in a conference more affected by COVID-19 pauses than any other league.
Some teams in the WAC have been lucky and played nine or 10 conference games. Seattle has managed just five. UT Rio Grande Valley technically sits atop the standings undefeated in conference play at just 2-0 this season.
There’s little question, though, that Grand Canyon would be the WAC’s best representative in the NCAA Tournament. The Antelopes are the only top-150 KenPom team in the conference, having fared well in their chances against better competition.
Grand Canyon defeated Nevada in December and played competitive, close games against Colorado, Arizona State and San Francisco.
Offensively, the Antelopes operate on a different planet than Winthrop, playing at the 330th-ranked tempo this season. Drew’s offensive attack centers around two foreign big men, who lead the Antelopes in scoring.
Asbjorn Midtgaard, a Danish import and Wichita State transfer, averages a double-double per night and shoots 74% from the field — the best mark in the nation. He’s joined in the frontcourt by Italian stretch four Alessandro Lever, who makes better than 40% from outside the 3-point arc.
If the Antelopes can survive the WAC Tournament, they are worth monitoring as a team capable of threatening an upset in the first round. Against many power conference foes, Drew’s twin towers will be outmatched and mitigated. However, a program with a weaker inside presence could keep Grand Canyon competitive deep into the second half of a game.
Bob McKillop once again has an elite offense in the Atlantic 10, with his Wildcats scoring better than 113 points per 100 possessions when adjusted for opponents by KenPom.
Davidson’s motion offense and constant, collective greenlight from beyond the arc enables any player on the court to be a weapon on the offensive end. The Wildcats play slowly and patiently, hunting for high-value shots.
That makes Davidson an incredibly high variance team. The Wildcats have wins against Rhode Island and Vanderbilt, plus a two-point loss to a highly ranked Texas team.
At the same time, Davidson is capable of scoring just 52 points in a loss to Charlotte. With the 14th-highest percentage of field goals coming from outside the arc in the nation, the Wildcats go by the classic manta of living by the three and dying by the three.
For bettors, that makes Davidson a potentially intriguing play in March. The Wildcats aren’t currently trending toward shooting regression in either direction. In their last five games, they’re making 36.6% from long range, a hair above their season average.
Remove a recent game against a non-Division I opponent (in which Davidson shot 18-of-40 from outside the arc) and the new four-game sample results in just 33 percent on three-point baskets.
The Wildcats are currently in third place in the conference but have two more games with at-large hopefuls (St. Bonaventure and VCU) before the A-10 tourney. The top four seeds in the conference earn a bye to the quarterfinals, which is a massive leg up.
Throughout March, Davidson is worth keeping an eye on, with particular interest in its shooting and possible regression from opposing defenses.