There are only 43 college football games left at the FBS level this season. That means a lot of bettors will be gravitating toward college basketball if they haven’t already taken the plunge. Many are playing catch-up with the hoops season or will start doing so soon, as late December and early January are when interest starts to perk up the most.
One mistake that casual CBB fans and bettors always make is to assume the big names — the blue-blood programs that get the high-profile freshmen and dominate the headlines — are good. That can be a very dangerous assumption and one that costs you money. It is hard to cite the 2020-21 season in any capacity because of all the hardships and interruptions that COVID-19 caused, but Duke went 13-11. Kentucky was 9-16. Marquette and Indiana had losing seasons. Big names don’t always have big seasons.
Similarly, the teams that were good in the mid-major and low-major conferences are far from guaranteed to be good again. Usually a star player or a major transfer can have so much of an impact in a one-bid league that it can skew the results and skew the perceptions of teams.
Basically, you cannot take anything for granted in college basketball. If you are coming late to the party, evaluate teams for what they are now. Consider their current statistical profile and roster makeup, not what they’ve been in the past. As we know, coaching changes and roster turnover is rampant in college hoops. Don’t just assume the name on the front will be as good as it was. Think about the names on the back and how they’re performing.
One thing you can do, though, is look and see why those prominent programs are struggling. Let’s check out a few of those before getting into this week’s Teams to Back and Teams to Fade.
The Seminoles are just 5-4 and lost their ACC opener 63-60 to Syracuse. Florida State also just lost to a pretty mediocre South Carolina team in Rock Hill. For a team that has been in the top 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency each of the last five seasons, the Seminoles just aren’t making enough shots this year. They’re shooting 32.3 percent on 3s and are trending toward their worst season at the free throw line since the 2017-18 campaign.
Roster turnover has been a big reason. The Seminoles aren’t quite as talented and don’t have as many proven scorers. They also don’t have a facilitator like Scottie Barnes. This might just be a down year by Tallahassee standards.
The Ducks have been really uncompetitive in some of their losses, including blowouts at the hands of Houston and BYU and a double-digit loss to Saint Mary’s. Dana Altman’s team has also experienced a ton of turnover, losing guys like Chris Duarte, Eugene Omoruyi and LJ Figueroa.
Oregon kept Will Richardson around and surrounded him with transfers like Jacob Young and De’Vion Harmon. This looks to be a team still trying to jell. Altman’s teams are at their best late in the year, so you might want to follow the Ducks closely for signs of improvement.
Playing the style of basketball the Cavaliers employ requires a certain level of offensive efficiency. The pack-line defense is designed to slow down and suffocate the opposition, but the downside risk of playing low-possession games is that the offense has to make a high enough percentage of shots to avoid losing low-scoring games.
Virginia is shooting 30.2 percent from 3. If this continues, it would be the worst such percentage in Tony Bennett’s tenure. The only other season that comes close is 2020, when Virginia was still 23-7 overall and 15-5 in the ACC. As long as the Cavs start making more shots, they’ll be fine, but the margin for error will always be thin playing at that tempo.
Let’s check out some Teams to Back and Teams to Fade based on the stats and metrics with stats as of Tuesday morning.
TEAMS TO BACK
Arizona State: The Sun Devils are off to a 4-6 start, but positive variance should be finding its way to Tempe at some point. ASU has played one of the nation’s toughest schedules and has fared pretty well defensively, holding seven of 10 opponents to under one point per possession. But the offense has been uncharacteristically poor.
Arizona State is shooting under 30 percent from 3 and under 46 percent on 2s. The roster is fairly young, but the Sun Devils are shooting only 55.1 percent on “close twos,” as defined by Bart Torvik. That will improve. Their distance shooting should also improve simply because they’re too talented to be 289th in the nation.
Lastly, much like when an FBS team loses to an FCS team or gets upset by a very inferior opponent early in the season, people will remember ASU scoring just 29 points against Washington State. They won’t remember the good, only the bad for a while. That usually creates some betting value.
Saint Peter’s: The Peacocks from the MAAC are off to a slow start at 3-5, including losses to bad teams like Siena and St. Francis (N.Y.). Saint Peter’s has not had 6-foot-10 sophomore Oumar Diahane all that often, and this is a vertically challenged team without impact players down low.
The Peacocks are shooting only 45.4 percent on “close twos” but have the highest shot share in Division I on that type of field goal attempt at 49.4 percent. They’ve gotten to the rim a lot but have not finished. Saint Peter’s has also been victimized at the free throw line. Free throw defense is kind of an oxymoron, but the Peacocks rank just outside the bottom 50 in FT percentage against at 74.6 percent and have also fouled at an extreme rate.
With their own free throw shots, the Peacocks are under 65 percent. Playing a pressure defense under coach Shaheen Holloway has created a lot of turnovers and easy bucket chances but has also led to a lot of fouls for a depth-shy team. Still, the low shooting rate at the stripe and the rim should positively regress, and the Peacocks should get things figured out.
TEAMS TO FADE
UNC-Asheville: The Bulldogs have a lot of red flags and negative indicators. Opponents are shooting only 26.2 percent on 3s, which ranks in the top 20 nationally. Given that UNC-Asheville ranks in the bottom 100 in 2-point percentage defense, I don’t really believe this is a great defensive team, just one that has gotten lucky.
Opponents have the highest shot share of “close twos” because the Bulldogs are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country. One trait I look to fade most often is a team that regularly gives the opposition extra possessions, either by turnovers or rebounds. The Bulldogs do that a lot, and they are not a gifted enough offensive team to make up for it.
LSU: LSU is a very good team. Will Wade has an excellent squad, but the 9-0 SU record and 8-1 ATS mark will likely lead to some inflated prices. Furthermore, LSU ranks in the top five in defensive efficiency, turnover percentage and effective field goal percentage defense.
The Tigers are forcing teams to shoot from the outside, as 48 percent of shots against LSU have been 3s. Teams are making only 26.8 percent of those shots. Opponents are also shooting only 62.8 percent at the free throw line and 40.5 percent on 2s. LSU is a strong defensive team, but likely not this strong. The Tigers have played the 143rd-ranked schedule per KenPom, which will ramp up after nonconference play ends. We’ll have chances to fade LSU coming up.