CBB schedule strength key for bettors

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

November 30, 2021 08:42 PM

Another week of college basketball is in the books, and we have some bigger sample sizes to consider now. Most teams have still played only about one-fifth of their regular-season games, but conference play is drawing near and interest in college hoops will pick up during football’s bowl season.

That means it is a good time to take stock of some of these teams. Last week I introduced some stats about midrange shooting and near-proximity shots. Those will continue to be key parts of my handicap, but I wanted to work in some other things to consider this week. Where applicable, I’ll still throw in those stats, but there is a lot of good data out there for college basketball.

Evaluating Strength of Schedule

One thing you’ll want to start paying attention to as December goes along is strength of schedule. Places like Ken Pom, Bart Torvik, Haslametrics and Sagarin provide different strength-of-schedule metrics. A lot of the stat sites do adjust for quality of competition or assume the stats against an average opponent, but some teams have been tested a lot more than others, particularly in the Group of 5.

Bellarmine, for example, has already played Purdue, Murray State, Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga, UCLA and West Virginia. The Knights’ next three games are against lower-division teams. It will take a long time for a lot of their non-adjusted metrics to improve after playing such a hard slate, but you’ll want to consider that, especially when conference play hits.

On the flip side, Texas Tech has played basically nobody of consequence, though that changes this week with Providence and Tennessee. Winning every game by 15 or more points over North Florida, Grambling, Prairie View A&M, Incarnate Word, Omaha and Lamar will always make a team look good, but playing legitimate teams will be a real test. The Red Raiders also have Gonzaga on the horizon Dec. 18.

Make sure you are applying context to these games. The adjusted metrics will do some of that for you, but you also have to do some of it yourself, especially if you are just looking at shooting percentages, turnover rates or rebounding metrics. Texas Tech leads the nation in ORB percentage per Torvik. Take that with a whole shaker of salt given the strength of schedule so far.

Similarly, be sure to notice if a team is struggling against a weak schedule. Texas Tech is 6-0 and that’s great, but look at a team like UTSA, which has the 356th-ranked schedule per Ken Pom and is still just 4-3. The Roadrunners got run off the floor by Oklahoma and rank 347th in 2-point percentage despite playing a terrible schedule. That is a team you may want to plan to fade as the season goes along.

Other teams that have struggled despite bad schedules: Denver, FAU and Youngstown State.

Last week I talked about regression to the mean and some of the stats I look for as outliers. There are several examples of these again this week, so let’s look at some teams to follow and teams to fade. All stats are as of Tuesday morning.

Teams to Fade

Colorado State

Niko Medved’s team is off to an outstanding 7-0 start, including six wins over Division I teams. But I have some major concerns about the offense. For starters, the Rams are shooting 72.8 percent on “close twos,” as defined by Torvik. Their shot share for close twos is just 23.3 percent. Their shot share on “farther twos” is 39.7 percent.

That is one of my college basketball pet peeves. Midrange shots just don’t have the equity of attempts at the rim or near-proximity shots. Colorado State is 11th from the bottom in percent-NPA, which stands for percentage of near-proximity attempts against an average opponent per Haslametrics. The Rams are third in midrange shooting percentage. This looks like an unsustainable offensive strategy to me.

Colorado State has also made a high rate of 3-point shots, due in large part to a 20-of-34 performance Nov. 21 against Creighton.

The Rams don’t force turnovers. They’re outshooting opponents by nearly 17 percent at the free throw line. The quality of competition will step up after Wednesday’s game against Little Rock, and I could see some ATS losses in a stretch that includes Saint Mary’s, Mississippi State, Tulsa and Alabama.


The Zips appear to be quite bad. The close loss to Ohio State in the opener created a bit of an expectation that Akron has little chance of living up to this season. The Zips have double-digit losses to Fordham and Appalachian State already to go along with two wins over lower-division schools and a win over Evansville.

In that win over the Aces, Akron was 10 of 15 from 3 and is still shooting 28.4 percent from long range in games against Division I opponents. The Zips have a shot share of 18 percent on close twos and are settling for a lot of long jumpers as a team that struggles to make them.

Akron is also a 58.5 percent team at the free throw line. The Zips will be tasked with some big favorite roles in upcoming games against Southern, Florida A&M and Radford, but this doesn’t look like an efficient offensive team at all. The Zips have also struggled badly to force turnovers against Division I teams.

Teams to Back


The Scarlet Knights had lost three in a row by a total of seven points going into Tuesday’s game against Clemson. The home loss to Lafayette was pretty inexcusable, but it was an awful shooting night and those things happen. Rutgers has had a lot of awful shooting nights to this point, firing away at just 24.1 percent from 3-point range.

Nevertheless, Rutgers doesn’t rely on the 3 a lot, shooting one just 30.5 percent of the time, but it hasn’t had the efficiency on 2-point shots either. The Scarlet Knights are taking great care of the basketball, albeit against a weak schedule, and should probably be faring a lot better.

Only 28.5 percent of opponents’ shots have been close twos, as defined by Torvik, so they’ve done what they need to do on the interior. By Ken Pom’s luck metric, Rutgers entered Tuesday’s game 348th in the nation. This is an experienced team that should get it going soon.


The Bears have been feisty in losses to North Carolina and Colorado and look like a pretty decent team as Ivy League schools go. Brown is shooting under 45 percent on 2-point shots, including a near-proximity shooting percentage vs. the average opponent of 52.64 percent per Haslametrics, which is the 14th lowest in the nation. That should improve.

The Bears have been a solid defensive team against just about everybody except UNC and Creighton, which is to be expected. Brown’s next four games should feature pretty short spreads, and each seems winnable. The Bears are shooting only 49 percent on close twos, which ranks in the bottom 30. They’ve also converted just 82.4 percent of their dunks. Some bad luck at the rim has hurt Brown, but its defense should be good enough to win some games when that regresses in a positive way.

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