Capitalizing on COVID in college hoops

By Adam Burke  ( 

December 21, 2021 07:31 PM

The college basketball season is on hold for several teams as an increase in COVID-19 cases has led to cancellations across the country. We’ve missed out on some big nonconference games, such as Kentucky-Louisville, Ohio State-Kentucky and Memphis-Tennessee.

Health and safety protocols are in place for a reason, but it would be nice to have those data points during the NCAA tournament selection process in March.

Let’s discuss how to handicap the COVID chaos, then look at some teams to back and teams to fade (stats through Monday).

’Capping COVID

As teams around college basketball try to navigate the Omicron variant, we’re going to see more forfeits and postponed games. Last season, there were some strong betting angles, such as fading teams off of a COVID-19 pause against teams that were playing regularly.

With 358 schools, it’s a lot to keep up with, but try to follow teams that go on COVID-19 pauses and players that are in and out of the lineup. You may end up with a team that hasn’t played in more than a week against a team that hasn’t had an interruption all season.

One luxury for teams dealing with COVID-19 is the players that test positive now are unlikely to miss time down the stretch. From a futures standpoint, that may end up having some equity.

Ohio State is a prime example. The Buckeyes have some breakthrough COVID-19 cases, but coach Chris Holtmann said most of the symptoms are minor. Given the likelihood that a lot of programs wind up with outbreaks because of the nature of the new variant, it may mean some free wins for the Buckeyes down the line, or they could face opponents missing key players.

It is far from an ideal situation, but bettors must look for opportunities to get some line equity, and teams that have already had a bout with COVID-19 may prove fruitful.


Missouri State: The Bears are off to a nice start but could have an even more impressive record. All four of Missouri State’s losses have been by six or fewer points, including a tough home loss to BYU after an overtime defeat in the conference opener against Illinois State.

Dana Ford’s team has taken excellent care of the ball, ranking in the top 40 in offensive TO percent. The Bears have also been efficient shooting the ball in all categories, including at the free-throw line. They are also a stout defensive rebounding team.

Lastly, the Bears do a great job protecting the rim. They have the lowest field-goal share against on “close 2s,” as defined by Bart Torvik, at 21.1 percent. They also have one of the best assist rates against, forcing teams into a lot of Iso situations and bad shots.

Wright State: The Raiders clearly miss Loudon Love, who averaged 16.6 points and 10.1 rebounds, but they also have some holdovers from last season’s team that are struggling. Junior Grant Basile, a 48 percent 3-point shooter last year, is 6-for-39 this season. Fellow junior Tim Finke is shooting less than 25 percent from deep after cashing in more than 41 percent of his triples last season.

Wright State is missing a huge piece from last season’s team, and it has taken some time to come together. The team has let its offensive woes carry over to the defensive side, as opponents have made 55.5 percent of their 2-point shots. Wright State is also lacking on the offensive glass.

Scott Nagy is a good coach. Adjustments will be made. The Raiders have won at least 20 games in five of the last six seasons and went 16-4 in league play last season. They are just 2-7 ATS but are better than they’ve shown.


La Salle: The Explorers have played a weak schedule and haven’t looked impressive in the process. Per KenPom, they have played the 356th-ranked slate in terms of opposing defenses. They’re outside the top 250 in adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom and outside the top 280 per Torvik.

La Salle’s strength of schedule ranks are 351st per KenPom and 314th per Torvik. The Atlantic 10 is a strong conference as far as mid-majors go, and the Explorers are unlikely to have the horses to compete. In fact, Torvik has La Salle lined up as an underdog in every conference game.

La Salle settles for a lot of jump shots, with a field-goal share of just 27.8 percent on “close 2s.” That won’t win many games or cover many spreads.

Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders are 8-1-1 ATS, but there aren’t any indicators that point to that success continuing. MTSU has played a weak schedule, ranked 316th by KenPom and 303rd by Torvik. The team shoots a lot of 3s, with a 45.3 percent 3P rate, but has only made 30.5 percent of them.

MTSU ranks 24th in FG percent on “close 2s,” but that likely won’t last as the quality of competition increases.

The Blue Raiders have lost their three biggest road tests. Conference USA has grouped road trips, usually with games on Thursday and Saturday, so those look like good spots to fade an overachieving team.


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