College Basketball Mid-Major Betting Report: Breaking Down Richmond & Western Kentucky
Steve Roberts/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers center Charles Bassey (23).
The NCAA Tournament is called March Madness because of the Cinderella stories that cause chaos year-in and year-out.
Blue-blood programs such as Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas have struggled to find their footing early this season — creating conditions that are ripe for a mid-major program to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. But with over 320 college basketball teams taking the court every week, it’s hard to keep track of every “UAB” and “Liberty” out there.
That’s where we come in.
Every week, we provide you with analysis on the mid-major programs that bettors and NCAA Tournament fans should be monitoring leading up to 2021 March Madness.
In today’s edition of our College Basketball Mid-Major Betting Report, Tanner McGrath breaks down Richmond and Western Kentucky.
Also check out our Top Mid-Majors Watchlist below. Find against the spread (ATS) records for notable teams, plus recent performances and upcoming games to keep on your radar.
Links to Previous Mid-Major Betting Reports
If you’ve missed out on any of our previous mid-major coverage to date, click the links below to navigate to previous iterations of our Mid-Major Betting Report column.
10-4 (4-2) • tied-3rd in A-10 • 8-6 ATS
While I’m a big fan of the Richmond Spiders, the team still has plenty of question marks — and an at-large bid to the Big Dance is not a given.
Currently, Richmond is a bubble team with a mercurial at-large resume. It has some really solid victories with a few rough losses. As of Wednesday, Jan. 27, Joe Lunardi of ESPN has the Spiders as one of the last four teams sneaking into the NCAA Tournament.
The best way to describe Richmond is streaky. The Spiders pair an incredibly potent offense with a defective defense; therefore they can shoot themselves into and out of games in a hurry.
Richmond ranks first in the Atlantic 10 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom. The Spiders shoot 52.4% on 2-point attempts, 37% from 3 — and they also boast the conference’s lowest turnover percentage (12.9%).
Richmond also leads the conference in free throw shooting (84.4%) but often has trouble getting to the line: The team ranks 10th in the conference in free throw rate.
Defensively, however, Richmond has been very poor. It ranks ninth in the conference in defensive efficiency (100.5) and 13th in opponent effective field goal percentage (eFG%).
To make matters worse, when the Spiders do actually force a missed shot, they are not well equipped to take advantage on the boards. Richmond ranks 331st in rebounds per game (29.9), while allowing 34.7 rebounds per game to opponents.
Chris Mooney’s lineup runs 10-deep with — almost inexplicably — no bench support. Each member of Richmond’s starting five averages over 11.0 points per game, while all five bench players average less than 5.0 points per game.
The Spiders’ one-two punch comes from seniors Blake Francis and Grant Golden. The guard-forward combo averages 31.4 points per game while shooting a combined 48% from the field. Senior guard Jacob Gilyard runs the offense, setting up teammates via 5.5 assists per game.
Richmond is a weird team with weird metrics and a weird resume. However, many of the questions regarding the team’s postseason viability will soon be answered: Richmond plays both Saint Louis and VCU twice down the stretch. Those four games will reveal which Spiders team we’ll get in March.
Ken Pomeroy’s projections make Richmond a short favorite against Saint Louis on Friday night. If opening odds match that projection, then I see no value on Richmond’s side. Nonetheless, it is a game that may prove consequential for the Atlantic 10. So, I’m going to keep a close eye on that matchup — and you should, too.
Editors Note: Saint Louis vs. Richmond (Friday, Jan. 29) has been postponed due to issues related to COVID-19.
- (POSTPONED) | vs. No. 22 Saint Louis
- Tuesday, Feb. 2 | vs. George Mason
- Friday, Feb. 5 | at Dayton
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
13-4 (6-2) • 1st in C-USA East • 8-9 ATS
The Hilltoppers have the potential to make some noise this March for one reason: Fundamentals.
Rick Stansbury’s squad does the right things well.
Western Kentucky is great at drawing fouls and making its free throws. It gets to the line at the highest rate in Conference USA and converts over 80% of those attempts. In fact, the Hilltoppers are top-five in the whole country in free throw percentage.
The Hilltoppers are also great defensively. They pace Conference USA in defensive efficiency (94.1) and have held opponents to 47% shooting from inside the arc, per KenPom. WKU limited Alabama — a team that has scored at least 80 points in 12 of its 17 games this season — to 71 points in Tuscaloosa.
Western Kentucky also rebounds exceptionally well, which further amplifies the potency of its stifling defense. WKU ranks top-25 in defensive rebounding percentage and top-70 in offensive rebounding percentage. The Hilltoppers pull down 38.4 total rebounds per game while holding their opponents to just 30.6.
Finally, center Charles Bassey is having an awesome season: The junior is averaging 17.8 points and 12.2 rebounds per game while shooting 59.1% from the floor. Additionally, Bassey ranks second in the country in blocks, averaging 3.4 per game.
The Hilltoppers have a few great wins, no bad losses, report a 2-2 record in Quad 1 opportunities and a 6-0 record in Quad 4 opportunities. Given the strength of the team’s defense, excellent rebounding and Bassey’s stellar performance, the Hilltoppers have the ability to beat any team on any given night.
Last but not least: Western Kentucky has been playing great lately. The Hilltoppers have covered in four straight games and are projected as 6-point favorites against Florida Atlantic on Friday. This might be a really good spot for one of the most fundamentally sound mid-majors in college basketball.
- Friday, Feb. 5 | at Florida Atlantic
- Saturday, Feb. 6 | at Florida Atlantic
- Friday, Feb. 12 | vs. Rice
- Saturday, Feb. 13 | vs. Rice