College Basketball Catch-Up: The 10 Most Important Things You Might Have Missed
USA Today Sports. Pictured: Grant Williams, Zion Williamson, Bill Self
- College football season is over and March is only two months away, which means it's time to catch up on college basketball.
- Below are the 10 most important things you might have missed over the first two months of the season.
- Among them: The SEC is for real, Zion Williams won't quit dominating and Kansas is in trouble.
With the College Football Playoff in the books, it’s time to focus our attention on the two-month run-up to the most riveting postseason tournament in sports.
Which surprise college basketball teams and trends have you missed out on? Let’s dig into the season’s most intriguing storylines through the first two months.
How NET Is Impacting Betting Lines
The selection committee introduced the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) over the offseason, replacing the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). NET factors in game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency as well as the quality of wins and losses while RPI had only factored in wins, losses and strength of schedule.
Not only has NET capped the victory margin at 10 points, but it also includes points per possession at both ends of the court. Coaches are keeping their starters in late as a result — even if they’re ahead by double figures — in an effort to bolster their NCAA tournament resumes.
How is this adjustment affecting which programs are covering?
According to our Bet Labs data, teams favored by eight to 10 points are 120-83-5 (59.1%) against the spread this season after going 486-488 (49.9%) ATS over the past two regular seasons.
Duke Is Still Dominating
Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (20.2 points per game) must not realize his opponents have families.
The 6-foot-7, 285-pound freshman has taken college basketball by storm and now has the highest Naismith College Player of the Year odds (-150) as a result. His team has responded with a 12-1 record straight up (9-4 ATS) with the lone blemish coming in the Maui Invitational against Gonzaga.
Duke’s national title odds (2-1) lack any sort of value, but its second-rated Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (86.7 opponents’ points per 100 possessions) deserves plenty of praise.
Don’t Forget the Rest of the ACC
The Blue Devils aren’t the only ACC program with a legitimate chance to cut down the nets in April.
Virginia and North Carolina — both profitable teams at 10-3 and 8-4-2 ATS, respectively — remain in the mix.
The Cavaliers (10-1) are led by their third-ranked AdjD (86.9 opponents’ points per 100 possessions), yet they’re also notching their best AdjO in the past three seasons because of their elite perimeter shooting (39.3%).
UNC (16-1) hasn’t hit its stride yet, going 1-2 ATS against top-25 KenPom opponents, but the Tar Heels are scary good when their size limits opponents to one possession and sparks their transition attack.
Virginia Tech’s (40-1) and NC State’s (66-1) underrated but highly efficient offenses are worth watching, too.
Most Profitable Teams So Far
Samford (13-3), Ole Miss (12-1), Oklahoma (12-1-1), East Tennessee State (12-3) and Hofstra (12-3) have crushed it ATS.
Alabama (10-2-1), Ball State (10-3), Washington State (10-3), St. John’s (10-4-1) and UMass (10-4) are among the notable teams consistently hitting the over while Oklahoma State (3-11), Nevada (3-11), Baylor (3-10), Duke (3-10) and Penn State have been hitting the under often.
Kansas Is In Trouble
The Jayhawks’ offense was constantly clogged in lane with Udoka Azubuike and Dedric Lawson on the court together, but they still needed Azubuike’s presence defensively.
The 7-foot junior was ruled out for the season (wrist injury) this past Sunday, leaving Bill Self with one of his toughest projects — especially with Texas Tech or Iowa State is in position to snap Kansas’ streak of 14 straight regular-season conference titles.
Kansas’ most evident issue is its lack of perimeter threats, sitting No. 178 in that department (34.1%). Unless Lawson and Quentin Grimes improve their shooting touch, the Jayhawks could be on upset alert in March.
Believe in Tennessee and the SEC
The Volunteers had 25-1 national title odds a month before the season began — even 35-1 odds at some offshore sites. They’ve risen to the sixth-highest odds (14-1) in the country since — a product of their physicality and improved offense (fifth-ranked AdjO), which is paced by upperclassmen Grant Williams’ and Admiral Schofield’s floor-spacing prowess.
Even though this conference is typically known for its football, its one of the best high-major hoops leagues because of its depth. Kentucky (16-1), Auburn (25-1) and Mississippi State (50-1) all have cores that can make runs in March Madness, and there’s a strong possibility five or six more SEC teams snag a spot in the big dance.
A Top-Heavy Big Ten
It’s Michigan’s and Michigan State’s conference, and every other Big Ten team is just living in it.
Despite the Big Ten likely notching more than four teams in the NCAA Tournament, which it did last season, these two programs won’t be challenged much.
The Wolverines’ fourth-rated AdjD (87.8 points per 100 possessions) has led to their 14-0 record, and the Spartans are covering 73% of the time thanks to their rapid-paced attack. Both teams are led by elite point guards in their own respect: Zavier Simpson is a ball hawk defensively while Cassius Winston (17.7 points per game) has evolved into one of the game’s most efficient players.
Neither heavyweight has national title futures value with their respective 10-1 and 16-1 odds, though.
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What to Make of St. John’s and the Big East
Many thought the Red Storm would have a lethal offense with Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron in the fold, and now they’re stifling opponents at the other end with their 22.1% opponents’ turnover rate.
Junior guard Shamorie Ponds (20.4 PPG) — who is a 25-1 bet for POY — has guided the group to a 14-1 SU record.
Ponds and Co. are one of the top favorites to win the conference tournament (4-1). There’s a jumbled mess behind them with Villanova (8-5), Marquette (6-1) and Seton Hall (10-1) all boasting cores that can challenge for the same prize. Marquette’s Markus Howard (14-1) and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell (20-1) are in the mix for POY as well.
Burn Down the Pac-12
But seriously, can we?
The Pac-12 is 62-80-4 (43.7%) ATS as a whole, per our Bet Labs data, and it’s very likely that the conference champ is the lone team to earn a ticket to March Madness. Arizona State lost to Princeton after knocking off then-No. 1 Kansas, UCLA was a hot mess before firing Steve Alford on New Year’s Eve and Oregon lost five-star big Bol Bol for the rest of the season with a foot injury.
I’d bet on Washington having the most potential the rest of the way, thanks to its strong backcourt, but don’t bother wasting much coin on this crapshoot.
Gonzaga is no longer a mid-major, but let’s still tag the Bulldogs in this tier.
Gonzaga (12-4 ATS) got Killian Tillie and backup point guard Geno Crandall back in the mix after missing both in losses to Tennessee and UNC. Mark Few’s crew is still a 10-1 future bet to win the whole thing, so there isn’t much value anywhere else among this limited group.
Nevada (18-1) has developed into a second-half bulldog — besides its lone loss to New Mexico — and it’s ability to switch on everything with a bunch of floor-spacing ball handlers makes the Wolf Pack a sound team come March.
Buffalo (50-1) is the one oddity if you’re looking for a deeper play to hedge.
Nate Oats’ crew showcased its potential a season ago as a 13-seed, upsetting Arizona (sorry, Joffe) in the first round. Within Gonzaga’s WCC, San Francisco (250-1) has potential for an at-large bid — primarily because of Frankie Ferrari’s stellar point guard play — but it wouldn’t be much of a threat in the big dance.