Mid-Major Second ‘State of Conference’ Betting Report: Keg & Strollo’s Top 10 Teams
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Randy Bennett (Saint Mary’s)
Last year here at the Action Network, we focused on 11 leagues for our “State of the Conference” series. Those 11 conferences included the power-six leagues, the AAC, Atlantic 10, Conference USA, WCC and Mountain West.
This year, we’re focusing on 10 leagues (power six plus AAC, A-10, WCC and MWC), but we also know that the Conference USA and the rest of the mid-to-low majors are incredibly important — especially to the success of bettors.
The first edition is done, and the second edition is now.
Here’s what’s on tap for this second edition:
- Keg’s Top-10 Mid-Majors
- Strollo’s Top-10 Mid-Majors
- Most Disappointing Mid-Major
- Most Underrated Mid-Major
Keg’s Mid-Major Top-10
- Kent State
- Saint Mary’s
- Southern Miss
- UC Santa Barbara
- Oral Roberts
- Sam Houston
- Utah Valley
Marshall Thundering Herd
I love Marshall
The Thundering Herd are one of the most exciting teams to watch in college basketball right now. They’re averaging 82.1 points per game while holding opponents to just 69, so Marshall has been impressive at both ends of the floor.
Marshall plays at a fast tempo and drives to the basket, hitting 54.7% on 2-point shots. And even when they do miss, the Herd have been great about getting the ball off the glass.
Marshall is coming down with an offensive rebound on 37.5% of opportunities and has been even better when it comes to making the most of those offensive rebounds, averaging 13.6 second-chance points per game.
Leading the charge for the Herd has been Taevion Kinsey, who is averaging 21.1 points, 5.9 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game.
Even more impressive, though, has been freshman Micah Handlogten, who recorded his third straight double-double last time out against Southern Miss.
On the defensive side of the ball, Marshall has been solid defending both the interior and on the perimeter. The Herd has held teams to an effective field goal percentage of just 46.5%, and with their experience, I think this team could be a serious contender in March.
Strollo’s Mid-Major Top 10
1. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Don’t allow the lack of an AP Poll ranking to cause you to miss one of the best stories in mid-major basketball this year, the Saint Mary’s Gaels. They are a top-10 team (by both KenPom and Bart Torvik) behind one of the best defenses in the nation.
The four losses Saint Mary’s has racked up have prevented it from catching a ranking in the most recent AP Poll, but I expect the Gaels to wind up in the thick of the top 25 in the coming weeks.
The Gaels will get two cracks at No. 8 Gonzaga in February, first at home and then to close the season out in Spokane. Both of these games need to be circled on your calendar, as that will decide the fate of the WCC.
Currently, Saint Mary’s is +6000 at Caesars to win the national title. I love a half unit on the Gaels to win it all at 60 to 1.
2. San Diego State Aztecs
I’m out of consensus having the Aztecs ranked this high, but I’m not worried about the four losses suffered so far this season. The Aztecs have quality losses to Arizona, Arkansas, Saint Mary’s and New Mexico.
Where San Diego State has significantly struggled is against the spread. This season, the Aztecs are cashing tickets just 28.6% of the time. I feel very strongly that this will normalize as we get into the bulk of conference play.
For the remainder of the season, look for San Diego State to lean on its top-ranked defense.
Additionally, the Aztecs have plenty of experience after playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation.
I see value on a fraction of a unit at +8000 to win the national title.
3. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga isn’t technically a mid-major, but it’s not playing to its typical level this season.
It has been tough sledding for Gonzaga ever since it opened with an exhibition loss against Tennessee.
The Zags are currently No. 8 in the AP Poll and are getting too much love from the sports media. They have been abysmal against the spread and face a very real threat from Saint Mary’s for the WCC auto bid into the Big Dance.
All pessimism aside, Gonzaga is still Gonzaga, and it has elite talent while being very well coached.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Bulldogs turn things around, especially with an ATS record that’s below 30%.
At +1600 to win it all, there’s value on the Bulldogs.
There are a pair of difficult matchups on the horizon for Gonzaga against Saint Mary’s, but expect its ATS performance to improve for the remainder of the season.
4. Boise State Broncos
The Broncos have quietly made a push to the top of the deep Mountain West Conference. Boise State is one of eight teams in the nation with seven or more Quad 1 and Quad 2 wins this season.
Behind a defense that ranks 11th in the nation in AdjD, the Broncos have put together an impressive ATS record.
Keep an eye on emerging star sophomore forward Tyson Degenhart during conference play. Degenhart, the 2022 MWC Freshman of the Year, is second on the team in scoring (13.6 PPG) and rebounds (5.8 RPG).
Fifth-year guard Marcus Shaver Jr. leads the team in scoring, rebounds and assists.
If the combo can stay healthy, Boise State will make a push to win the Mountain West.
5. FAU Owls
Florida Atlantic looks to be in control of its own destiny after defeating North Texas in a duel of the top teams in Conference USA. The Owls’ lone loss came in their second game of the season against Ole Miss back in November, and they have been perfect since then.
Florida Atlantic has been one of the best in the country against the line, too, failing to cover just three times this season.
The Owls are riding the second-longest winning streak in nation (15 straight games). After two wins against North Texas, the remainder of the schedule looks manageable for the Owls.
Head coach Dusty May, the all-time winningest coach in Florida Atlantic history, looks to have a team in place that aspires to go dancing.
6. Utah State Aggies
Utah State is the last of a crowded group of Mountain West participants in my top 10.
Utah State has its work cut out for it to win the Mountain West, but as a well-rounded team, we can count on it to keep cashing tickets.
The Aggies have an electric offense that can keep them in any game that remains on the schedule.
With an AdjO rating of 114.2 points per 100 possessions, Utah State will continue to present good value for total bettors, having hit the over in 70.6% of contests.
7. Dayton Flyers
Don’t let the Flyers’ record scare you off from backing this team for the rest of the season. They had a rough time at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament — dropping all three games — but I expect them to continue to continue to improve.
Dayton’s defense ranks 18th in the nation in AdjD, giving up just 92.7 points per 100 possessions.
I think the way to play Dayton for the rest of the season is backing the defense and betting unders. Season to date, the Flyers are winning unders at 66.7% clip.
8. North Texas Mean Green
North Texas will have to wait for a third crack at Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA Tournament after dropping both regular season games against the Owls by a combined eight points.
The Mean Green are a defensive-focused team, but have just been ho-hum from a betting perspective. They are a respectable 8-8 against both the spread and total so far this season.
At this point, there are no actionable trends, but North Texas is a team to keep an eye as we approach March.
9. Liberty Flames
Liberty plays at one of the slowest paces in all of Division I, with an Adjusted Tempo ranking of 350th on only 63.3 possessions per 40 minutes.
Minimal possessions haven’t been a problem for the Flames, who have been excellent against the spread.
Liberty ranks 21st in the nation from beyond the arc, dropping the 3 ball at a 38.1% rate.
Look for the Flames to remain a profitable ATS team behind their excellent shooting.
10. Iona Gaels
Iona looks to make a push to win the MAAC behind a plethora of scorers. This season, five different players have scored 20-plus points 17 times.
The diversified scoring effort has propelled Iona to be a profitable ATS team.
Look for the Gaels to make a push for the regular-season MAAC title.
Most Disappointing Mid-Major
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
The Hilltoppers have by no means been bad. Western is averaging 71 points per game and holding teams to 69.9. It’s a top-100 3-point shooting team in the country, and Jamarion Sharp leads the nation in blocks per game.
But this team is just not as good as many expected it to be.
Even with Dayvion McKnight being one of only 11 players in the nation averaging 17 points, four assists and four rebounds, this team has still not performed at the level many expected.
WKU opened up conference play with three straight losses, but it has since bounced back, stringing together two wins — both of which came on the road.
The biggest problem for the Hilltoppers has been their defense, specifically when it comes to defending 3s.
Their most recent win over UAB is encouraging and the talent is absolutely there, but if they can’t continue to defend better, I’m not sure this team can make a deep run in the C-USA Tournament.
Norfolk State Spartans
By: Patrick Strollo
I had much higher hopes for Norfolk State heading into the season, especially against the spread.
After suffering its most recent loss to MEAC opponent Howard as nine-point favorites, Norfolk State has dipped below a 200 ranking in the KenPom rankings.
There seems to be a real risk that the Spartans fail to win the MEAC this season.
Most Underrated Mid-Major
North Carolina Central Eagles
I don’t think the Eagles are getting nearly enough credit for what they have done this season, both in their non-conference schedule, as well as early into conference play.
North Carolina Central played the 30th-toughest non-conference schedule in the nation. Finishing at .500 was not only impressive, but it rarely was blown out by even top teams in the nation.
The Eagles lost to Virginia and Marquette by just 12 each game.
So far through conference play, the Eagles have been the third-best team when it comes to offensive efficiency and the second-best team in regards to 2-point shooting.
On the defensive side of the ball, NC Central is fourth in efficiency while also being top-three when it comes to defending both 2- and 3-point shots.
Not to mention, the Eagles have been one of the best teams in the nation when it comes to covering the spread (9-2-1 on the year).
North Carolina Central could very well win the MEAC, and it’s absolutely a threat to any team it runs into in the postseason.
By: Patrick Strollo
After an excellent start to the 2023 season, Charleston — which is riding the longest winning streak in the nation — should start shining its dancing shoes because March Madness seems to be in the cards for the Cougars.
Sporting a perfect record in the CAA, Charleston has been a force to reckon with.
A word of caution, though, Charleston is rated as the 17th-luckiest team nationally, per KenPom.