Breaking down early college hoops

November 23, 2021 08:11 PM
The college basketball season just opened a couple of weeks ago, but the tip-off was loaded with storylines, including many surprising results. In the first few days alone, several of the nation’s top teams lost, including Illinois and Virginia. The competition level and quality of games has been outstanding and has led to highly ranked teams like Villanova and Michigan already suffering multiple defeats. Still, many teams that were expected to be powers have fulfilled that role, with Gonzaga and UCLA — who squared off in a massive game Tuesday night — as well as Purdue and Duke getting off to great starts.
Home-Court Performance
Having come off a season that essentially went without fans, how teams fare on their home courts with fans in the stands this season will be a huge storyline. Let’s look at some of the early home-court numbers and compare them with last season at about this time:
Average Line/Score of Non-Neutral Games in first weeks of 2020-21 season:
Home favored by 13.62 points, Avg. Score — Home 79.83, Road 65.21, Margin + 14.62
Average Line/Score of Non-Neutral Games in first weeks of 2021-22 season:
Home favored by 11.59 points, Avg. Score — Home 76.3, Road 64.1, Margin + 12.2
It would seem home teams are underperforming compared with last season. A lot of this is determined by the specific matchups, but still, it’s something to keep an eye on. In terms of point-spread success, the hosts last year at this time were about 51.5 percent, aided by what seemed a lessening of home-court advantage points given by oddsmakers. With more of a return to normalcy this season, home teams are 283-290 ATS, for 49.4 percent. 
None of this information is of any major value to readers right now, but the point I’m making is that little has changed this season with fans in the stands. If anything, the work done by oddsmakers in reapplying more home-court edge to teams has negatively impacted their ATS performance.
Two particular early-line range notes to consider involve large home favorites and home underdogs:
— Home favorites of 17 points or more were just 74-96 ATS (43.5 percent) in the first two weeks of the season.
— Home underdogs were off to a 47-35 ATS (57.3 percent) start in the first two weeks.
Best/Worst ATS Starts
As of Tuesday morning, 11 teams were undefeated against the spread after playing four or more board games in the first two weeks:
Alabama State: 1-5 SU/6-0 ATS
Alcorn State: 0-4 SU/4-0 ATS
Boston U.: 3-2 SU/5-0 ATS
Cornell: 3-1 SU/4-0 ATS
LSU: 5-0 SU/5-0ATS
Minnesota: 4-0 SU/4-0 ATS
Monmouth: 3-1 SU/4-0 ATS
New Mexico: 3-1 SU/4-0 ATS
Santa Clara: 5-0 SU/4-0-1 ATS
Virginia Tech: 5-0 SU/5-0 ATS
Wyoming: 4-0 SU/4-0 ATS
Cornell, Minnesota and New Mexico are particularly surprising in that Cornell didn’t play last year, Minnesota was expected to be down significantly this season and New Mexico is under a new coach, Richard Pitino, who left Minnesota after last season. 
Fourteen teams had yet to cover a point spread after playing at least four games in the first two weeks:
Appalachian State: 1-3 SU/0-4 ATS
Dayton: 1-3 SU/0-4 ATS
Grambling: 0-4 SU/0-4 ATS
Idaho State: 0-4 SU/0-4 ATS
Illinois State: 2-2 SU/0-3 ATS
North Carolina: 3-2 SU/0-5 ATS
NC State: 4-1 SU/0-5 ATS
Oregon State: 1-4 SU/0-5 ATS
Pacific: 1-3 SU/0-4 ATS
Penn State: 3-1 SU/0-4 ATS
Radford: 0-4 SU/0-4 ATS
Rider: 2-3 SU/0-5 ATS
Rutgers: 3-2 SU/0-5 ATS
William & Mary: 0-5 SU/0-5 ATS
With North Carolina, NC State and Penn State, there are some big-name teams on this list, each boasting lofty expectations heading into the season. 
Total Moves Have Been Telling
We have seen some very interesting results on games that have experienced big line moves. On games that have moved 3 points or more off their opening total, presumably because sharp or public money has backed a particular option, bettors are just 39-51 (43.3 percent) when following Over moves. Alternatively, when totals have dumped 3 points or more toward the Under, bettors have gone 68-51 (57.1 percent).
Biggest Power Rating Jumps Since Last Season
Of the 358 Division I teams, these are my biggest upward power-rating moves from where they finished last season:
Santa Clara (West Coast): + 9
Western Illinois (Summit): + 8.5
Alabama State (SWAC): + 7.5
Purdue (Big Ten): + 7.5
Troy (Sun Belt): + 7
Wake Forest (ACC): + 7
Fairfield (Metro Atlantic): + 6.5
Kansas (Big 12): + 6.5
Kennesaw State (Atlantic Sun): + 6.5
Murray State (Ohio Valley): + 6.5
Oakland (Horizon): + 6.5
Presbyterian (Big South): + 6.5
South Dakota State (Summit): + 6.5
San Francisco (West Coast): + 6.5
Air Force (Mountain West): + 6
These are the teams that have declined by at least six points on my power ratings since the end of last season:
Pepperdine (West Coast): -11.5
Eastern Washington (Big Sky): -11
Texas-San Antonio (Conference USA): -11
Wright State (Horizon): -11
Creighton (Big East): -10
Missouri (SEC): -10
Pittsburgh (ACC): -10
Georgia (SEC): -9
Virginia (ACC): -9
Colorado (Pac-12): -8.5
Dayton (Atlantic 10): -8.5
Penn State (Big Ten): -8.5
Rutgers (Big Ten): -8.5
Winthrop (Big South): -8.5
CS-Bakersfield (Big West): -8
Eastern Illinois (Ohio Valley): -8
Loyola (Md.) (Patriot): -7.5
Siena (Metro Atlantic): -7.5
UNC-Greensboro (Southern): -7.5
Virginia Commonwealth (Atlantic 10): -7.5
UMBC (America East): -7
Oral Roberts (Summit): -7
Western Michigan (Mid-American): -7
Abilene Christian (WAC): -6.5
Ball State (Mid-American): -6.5
Bowling Green (Mid-American): -6.5
Coastal Carolina (Sun Belt): -6.5
Duquesne (Atlantic 10): -6.5
Holy Cross (Patriot): -6.5
IUPUI (Horizon): -6.5
Oregon State (Pac-12): -6.5
Toledo (Mid-American): -6.5
Pacific (West Coast): -6
Biggest Scoring, Pace Changes Since Last Season
Here are the teams I have adjusted most upward in terms of scoring and pace. The first number represents my overall scoring adjustment, and the second shows the Effective Possessions per Game change — in other words, pace change. Some of the teams’ scoring uptick and possessions uptick don’t necessarily coincide. For instance, North Carolina’s total scoring is way up despite a much slower pace. Defensive issues?
College of Charleston (Colonial Athletic): + 23 points, + 9.4 possessions
Loyola (Chicago) (Missouri Valley): + 15.8 points, -2.7 possessions
New Mexico (Mountain West): + 15 points, + 10.2 possessions
Fordham (Atlantic 10): + 14 points, + 14.3 possessions
Memphis (American Athletic): + 12.5 points, -3.1 possessions
Mississippi Valley State (SWAC): + 11.9 points, + 18 possessions
Indiana State (Missouri Valley): + 11.6 points, + 1.9 possessions
Portland State (Big Sky): + 11.5 points, + 9.5 possessions
Washington State (Pac-12): + 10.6 points, -3.1 possessions
Prairie View A&M (SWAC): + 10.5 points, + 3.7 possessions
North Carolina (ACC): + 10.3 points, -9.8 possessions
Here are the teams that have seemingly slowed it down in 2021-22, both in terms of scoring and tempo. Only one team listed, Denver, actually shows a bit faster pace this season. However, its scoring efficiency is way down. 
IUPUI (Horizon): -16.9 points, -3.5 possessions
Boston College (ACC): -16.6 points, -9.6 possessions
CS-Northridge (Big West): -13.9 points, -7.2 possessions
Oakland (Horizon): -12.5 points, -3.9 possessions
Georgia (SEC): -12.1 points, -13.3 possessions
Wyoming (Mountain West): -10.9 points, -11.4 possessions
San Jose State (Mountain West): -10.7 points, -0.1 possessions
Denver (Summit): -10.7 points, + 3.7 possessions
Texas-San Antonio (Conference USA): -10.3 points, -7.7 possessions
LSU (SEC): -10 points, -15.8 possessions
Who Are Early Title Contenders?
If you’ve read any of the VSiN College Basketball Tournament Guides over the last few seasons, you’ll know I write a report each March qualifying the potential champions based on some key stats and ratings. Those I like to focus most on as elite among the early qualifying teams include:
Steve Makinen Power Rating of at least 89
Gonzaga 96
Purdue 93
Kansas 92
Baylor 91
Memphis 89.5
Steve Makinen Effective Strength Indicator Rating of at least + 18.5 and ranked in the Top 6 nationally
Arizona 29.8
Seton Hall 28.5
LSU 27.6
Purdue 26.4
Connecticut 26.2
Drake 25.2
Baylor 25.1
Gonzaga 25.1
Kansas 22.6
UCLA 22.4
Michigan State 21.5
BYU 21.3
Florida 21.3
Houston 20.8
Virginia Tech 20.8
USC 20.5
Duke 20.2
Illinois 19.5
Villanova 19.3
Loyola (Chicago) 18.9
Alabama 18.6
Kentucky 18.5
Steve Makinen Bettors Rating of at least -15.5 and ranked in the Top 5 nationally
Gonzaga -25.2
Connecticut -20
Kansas -19.7
Purdue -18.5
Duke -18
Texas -17.9
Baylor -17.2
Villanova -17.2
UCLA -16.5
Illinois -16.3
Florida State -16
Memphis -15.7
Scored at least 1.185 on my Effective Points per Possession on offense and ranked in the Top 18 nationally
Purdue 1.331
Iowa 1.325
Villanova 1.31
Kansas 1.307
Gonzaga 1.265
St. John’s 1.258
Alabama 1.243
UCLA 1.241
Washington State 1.24
Belmont 1.238
Santa Clara 1.234
Loyola (Chicago) 1.232
Arizona 1.226
Chattanooga 1.225
Drake 1.224
Kentucky 1.222
Virginia Tech 1.222
Houston 1.221
Allowed better than 0.955 in my Effective Points per Possession on defense and ranked in the Top 15 nationally
Seton Hall 0.759
Arizona 0.793
Illinois 0.801
LSU 0.807
Connecticut 0.828
UC-Irvine 0.833
Baylor 0.834
Wyoming 0.834
Wisconsin 0.838
Michigan State 0.847
BYU 0.849
Florida 0.851
South Alabama 0.852
Xavier 0.854
Virginia 0.861
Obviously, these lists contain a lot of surprises, and they will continue to evolve over the next few months. But it’s never too early to get a good snapshot on what’s going on in the early part of the college basketball season.
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