Midseason College Basketball Recap: How to Bet College Hoops Moving Forward
Tom Pennington/Getty Images. Pictured: Mark Vital.
Well, football is officially over, so I know a lot of you who ignored college basketball up until this point will now turn your attention to the nightly grind through March Madness.
If you’re looking to catch up on the season to date, I have you covered, including a number of very unique betting storylines that are completely unique to this unprecedented season.
A Cut Above
Gonzaga and Baylor are undoubtedly the two best teams in the country.
I don’t think you’ll find any reasonable person with the most basic college basketball knowledge who would argue that point.
Both remain undefeated with impressive wins on their respective resumes. Per my current power ratings, I have both almost equal with Baylor currently holding a slight edge. It would certainly be a treat to watch them go at it in the tournament.
I have both rated more than five points better than the third-best team in the country on a neutral court. I honestly can’t remember the last time we’ve seen a pair of teams this far ahead of the field. One team, certainly, but not two.
Looking back historically, the most similar years I can find are 2005 and 2010.
In 2005, the two teams that really seemed a cut above the rest were Illinois and North Carolina, both of which ultimately played each other in the National Championship.
In 2010, it was Duke and Kansas. The Blue Devils ended up cutting down the nets, but the Jayhawks actually got upset in the second round by Northern Iowa. I’m sure you recall the shot.
Back in 2010, Ali Farokhmanesh led Northern Iowa to a shocking victory over top-seeded Kansas. pic.twitter.com/Zh9VOILchD
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 6, 2019
It’s still March Madness, so don’t assume we are definitely getting Gonzaga and Baylor in the national title game.
Even if you haven’t been following college basketball that closely, you might’ve still known about Baylor and Gonzaga being juggernauts.
However, you may not know who the third-best team in the country is. Well, guess what? I don’t think anybody knows for sure.
Before the season, many thought it could be Tennessee or Iowa, but that hasn’t played out.
The Vols have the top Adjusted Defensive Efficiency in all of college basketball, but the offense goes through way too many droughts. The complete opposite is true for the Hawkeyes. They have the top Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, but their defense has been a sieve.
Two more recent candidates, Villanova and Houston, lost outright as fairly significant favorites just this past week.
As of right now, I have Michigan in that slot, but no one knows how the current extended pause the Wolverines are in will impact the rest of their season. We do know they looked very strong on both sides of the ball when they were playing in large part due to 7-foot freshman sensation Hunter Dickinson.
Come tournament time, I actually think Illinois could emerge as that third-best team.
As its freshmen get more experience going through the rest of conference play, the Illini are only going to get better. This is probably my favorite future right now if you can find 20-1 or better.
Speaking of Illinois and Michigan, the Big Ten is loaded this year from top to bottom… excluding Nebraska. Per Bracket Matrix, 10 teams would make the tournament if the season ended today. And that’s not including Penn State, which is right on the cusp.
You might be surprised to learn that Michigan State is not one of those 11 potential Big Ten tournament teams.
The Spartans have really struggled to find their footing so far this year. That’s been a common theme among the blue bloods, which I think were hurt by shortened preseason preparation and truncated non-conference schedules.
As of this moment, Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky would all miss the tournament. That hasn’t happened since 1975.
They have all also treated bettors very poorly, going a combined 12-32-1 ATS (27.3%) on the season so far.
Football or Basketball Season?
Ohio State is on a roll, and Alabama has been the best team in the SEC. Both project as current No. 2 seeds. It’s been an amazingly weird season.
Don’t forget about Drake — the only other team in the nation without a loss. The Bulldogs have jumped out to a 18-1 start.
And while they haven’t played a single team rated inside my top-100, it’s still a super fun team to watch and one of the best storylines in college basketball. Oh, and they’ve been a bettor’s best friend to date, posting a 14-3 record ATS.
However, Drake is not even the best team in its conference.
That distinction belongs to Loyola Chicago, which is now up to No. 13 overall in KenPom’s latest ratings. The Ramblers have an experienced team that plays lockdown defense and efficient offense through big man Cam Krutwig, who you might remember from Loyola’s run to the Final Four a few years ago.
Don’t be surprised if you see Sister Jean, who turned 101 this past summer, go on another magical ride this March.
One of the most unique aspects of this particular season is a handful of conferences play the same team on back-to-back days throughout league play. One of the most intriguing trends I’ve identified so far in these scenarios has to do with over/under splits.
If the first game has gone over, the second game has gone under at a significant clip — and vice versa. Check out these splits:
- If first game goes over: the second game under has gone 71-59-1 (54.6%)
- If first game goes under: the second game over has gone 72-57-2 (55.8%)
There could absolutely be some noise here, but the market has over-adjusted in the second game if the first either went over or under by a substantial margin. Team adjustments also likely play a factor here.
I tend to think the most intriguing betting aspect of these back-to-back games is if when they involve a team with a very unique style.
Shaking Off The Rust
One of the key storylines of the college basketball season has obviously been the impact of COVID-19.
Finding out which players are out on a nightly basis has made betting feel like a lottery at times, but I’m not complaining as long as we have a season — and more importantly, March Madness.
COVID-19 protocols have also forced many teams to pause all activities for extended periods of time. Those teams have significantly underachieved when returning to action.
Teams that have returned after a break of 14 or more days have gone 47-64-3 ATS (42.3%) against teams that aren’t in the same situation.
They’ve failed to cover by an average of 1.6 points per game — and the numbers get worse as the break gets longer. But, obviously, you’re working with a much smaller sample size.
Another aspect of this season that I’m personally struggling with is how to adjust for teams that have had a lack of practice.
For example, I’ve made the mistake of betting New Mexico State a few times this season and have clearly underestimated how much of a negative impact its interrupted schedule has led to.
That said, don’t forget that betting markets are fairly efficient and will adjust to these situations. In fact, it seems as if they may be overreacting of late. Assuming an average pace, I’m personally adjusting spreads by about two points on average for teams that have been off for close to a month.
Home underdogs in conference play that are catching six or more points have gone an atrocious 64-120-6 ATS (34.6%) so far this season, failing to cover by an average of 2.8 points.
It begs the question: Are teams that are clearly inferior hurt the most by the lack of home support? I tend to think it’s primarily randomness, but it’s worth bringing up since we have empty arenas throughout college basketball.
For what it’s worth, I currently have the overall home-court advantage throughout college basketball at about two points — down from 3 last season.