8 college teams that may be worse than we think

January 5, 2021 07:33 PM

Last week I looked at college basketball teams I believe are better than the betting market and experts think, based simply on the comparison between their Effective Statistical Strength and their Power Ratings at popular sources. This week it’s the opposite side of the equation — teams that might be worse than perceived.

For the record, Winthrop is the only team that made me look very good last week, winning both of its games handily after I proclaimed them underrated. However, Army did pull an outright upset over Colgate one day after getting blasted by that same team following a four-week break.

We’re about six weeks into the college basketball season, and while some teams have yet to even play a game, others have played up to 13. Of the 357 Division I teams, 340 have played at least one lined game to date, with the average number of games among that group being about seven. Therefore, there is enough of a sample size to make judgments about some teams. While this season has been and will continue to be unique, one of the exercises I like to do after a few games for each team is to analyze my Effective Strength Ratings against common perception. This is a way you can find over- and underrated teams to take advantage of in the coming weeks.

I am going to show you the top eight teams whose EFFECTIVE STRENGTH statistics exceed their power ratings, or in essence perception, from popular sources such as Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin. I’ve taken my Effective Points per Possession ratings and assigned them an equivalent power rating on the scale I use. I then took these PPP Equivalent Ratings and compared them with the combined average of the equivalent power ratings of KenPom and Sagarin.

The assumption is that if the Effective Points per Possession Equivalent Rating is higher than the average KP/SAG power rating, that team is playing better currently than its perceived strength. Does this mean that the teams playing worse should automatically be “play against” teams in the coming weeks? Not necessarily, but it’s certainly a good foundation for finding overvalued teams.

Here are eight teams that might be worse than we think as we head into full conference play, all with an Effective Strength Rating at least 9.0 points worse than their power rating average.


Conference: SWAC

Effective Strength Rating: 32.9

KenPom/Sagarin Average: 46.1

Difference: -13.2

Steve’s Analysis: A few weeks ago I pointed out on Twitter that Mississippi Valley State had reached a power rating of 44 on my scale, which happened to be the lowest I’ve recorded since I started tracking before the 2010-11 season. Since then, the Devils dropped another point to 43 after losses by 43, 39 and 40 points. This team is awful and being outscored by 43.9 points per game. From an oddsmaking perspective, it’s difficult to even put a line high enough on their games, as frankly it seems like the opponent just shoots for that margin and calls it a day. Do yourself a favor and NEVER back this team. Even a point spread win would be a fluke.


Conference: SWAC

Effective Strength Rating: 44.8

KenPom/Sagarin Average: 56.9

Difference: -12.1

Steve’s Analysis: Alcorn State is conference mates with Mississippi Valley State, so there’s a good chance the Braves will win at least a game or two this season following a 0-5 start. They have allowed 97.4 points per game, and opponents are shooting about 55% from the floor. Somehow, their two point-spread wins came against Houston and Baylor, two powers that seemed to let up when the money was being decided. In case you’re wondering, Alcorn State plays MVSU on Jan. 16. The Braves will be in the rare position of being favored, likely by double digits. Can we trust them to get it done?


Conference: Mid-American

Effective Strength Rating: 55.6

KenPom/Sagarin Average: 67.5

Difference: -11.9

Steve’s Analysis: Eastern Michigan’s Effective Strength Rating of 55.6 puts it in the same territory in which most college football experts judge the teams of the SWAC. That could be problematic in the MAC, however, as the teams in that league are typically in the high 60s or low 70s. It has been an ugly start for the Eagles, particularly when it comes to conference play, as they were blasted 87-60 by Central Michigan in the league opener despite being favored by 4.5 points. They’ve lost all three of their games against fellow Division I opponents. All hope isn’t lost with this bunch, however, as they have scored 78 points per game and have three players averaging 14 points or more.


Conference: Mountain West

Effective Strength Rating: 49.5

KenPom/Sagarin Average: 60.5

Difference: -11

Steve’s Analysis: San Jose State has been awful in the early going, winning just twice in their first eight games, beating two non-Division I opponents. Seneca Knight, the Spartan’s leading scorer last season, elected to transfer from the program after averaging nearly 10 points per game in his first four games. Four of their six losses have been by 33 points or more. There is clearly something wrong behind the curtain in this program, so bettors should stay away. 


Conference: Southland

Effective Strength Rating: 49.8

KenPom/Sagarin Average: 60.5

Difference: -10.7

Steve’s Analysis: McNeese State might be the one team on this list that is ripe for the picking, as the Cowboys don’t look that bad to the naked eye. They are 6-4 and scoring more than 90 points per game. Below the surface however, you’ll see that they have played only four lined games, losing all of them while going 1-2-1 ATS. They have cleaned up against non-Division I opponents and have bolstered their stats in those games. The team has seven players scoring between 8.4 and 14.0 points per game. Sharp bettors should recognize their non-adjusted stats as a facade.


Conference: Mid-American

Effective Strength Rating: 52.6

KenPom/Sagarin Average: 62.7

Difference: -10.1

Steve’s Analysis: Northern Illinois is getting its fair share of respect from oddsmakers in the early going. The Huskies have been favored three times in their first eight games. But they are 1-7 SU and 0-8 ATS. Their Effective Strength Rating puts them in mid-level SWAC territory, similar to conference mate Eastern Michigan, which I discussed earlier. The schedule is not going to be easy in the coming weeks either as NIU will face some of the top teams in the MAC starting Tuesday.


Conference: SWAC

Effective Strength Rating: 53.5

KenPom/Sagarin Average: 63

Difference: -9.5

Steve’s Analysis: We have yet another SWAC team on our list, as it seems that nonconference opponents have been taking turns beating up on this league in the early going. With a KP/Sag combined average rating of 63, Southern is one of the more respected teams in the conference. But the Jaguars have not lived up to that in their play, losing by an average of 27.8 points in their four games. To be fair, the competition was stiff, with the opponents being UAB, Arkansas, Iowa and North Carolina Central. Having had three weeks off since their last game, we’ll see if Southern can turn it around against their weaker SWAC rivals.


Conference: Mountain West

Effective Strength Rating: 61.9

KenPom/Sagarin Average: 71

Difference: -9.1

Steve’s Analysis: Fresno State’s struggles in back-to-back 22-point losses at Colorado State in late-December were well-documented on the West Coast. The Bulldogs responded a few days later by losing as favorites at home to Wyoming. Those are exactly the kinds of three-game stretches that land a team on a list like this. I’m not quite ready to give up on FSU just yet, however, as 7-foot sophomore Orlando Robinson has upped his game this season and could prove to be one of the best players in the Mountain West in 2020-21. Pomeroy and Sagarin still give this team the respect of a 70+  rating as well. On Friday and Sunday they take on San Jose State, which, as explained above, is playing far worse.


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