College basketball trends: Defensive characteristics

February 1, 2022 07:53 PM
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In the last issue of Point Spread Weekly, I pulled a list of college basketball trends from my own database for conference play. The list was a hint at what’s to come, hopefully soon, at VSiN.com.

I pulled 20 trends out of a group of 4,955 choices focusing on opponents’ offensive strengths and weaknesses. This week, I have a list of 20 more trends centered on opponents’ defensive characteristics, plus a couple of key differentials. 

These particular trends go back five-plus years, or since the start of the 2016-17 season, and include only records compiled in conference games against opponents that meet certain defensive criteria. In general, the criteria includes the top 25% or bottom 25% nationally in any given category. For instance, in the last five-plus seasons, teams in the bottom 25% of defensive scoring have allowed more than 73.5 points per game. Teams in the top 25% have allowed fewer than 66 points per game.

With each trend, I’ve provided the average score and line in games that fit the angle. This gives us a good idea of how much teams are outplaying or underperforming Vegas expectations, a clear indicator of an effective trend. I’ve also provided an explanation of why the angle is one to watch plus any upcoming games in which it might apply. All stats are entering Monday.

Conference matchup angles: 10 positive trends over the last 5+ seasons

BELMONT is 46-0 SU and 31-13-2 ATS versus conference opponents allowing more than 73.5 PPG

Average score: Belmont 86.7, Opponent 67.9

Average line: -14

Steve's analysis: Belmont hasn’t lost a single game in conference play since 2016-17 against an opponent that was allowing more than 73.5 PPG. Currently in the Ohio Valley, SE Missouri State is the league’s worst defensive team, allowing 79.4 PPG, and Belmont will travel there Feb. 12.

FLORIDA STATE is 23-10 SU and 22-8-3 ATS versus conference opponents with an average rebounding differential of + 3.8 or more

Average score: Florida State 74.4, Opponent 70.4

Average line: + 0.2

Steve's analysis: Florida State has gained a reputation for its size and physicality in recent years. It’s no wonder they have proven to be a tough matchup for the ACC’s best teams on the boards. On Feb. 12, the Seminoles will test this trend against the conference’s top rebounding team, North Carolina, in Chapel Hill.

FURMAN is 24-1 SU and 20-5 ATS versus conference opponents with an average point differential of + 2.0 or worse

Average score: Furman 85, Opponent 65.2

Average line: -13.4

Steve’s analysis: Furman has throttled Southern Conference teams that are average or below average in point differential, outscoring this group by almost 20 points per game. On Wednesday, Furman hosts a Citadel team being outscored by 3.9 PPG, then follows that up with another qualifying team, UNC Greensboro, on Saturday. Furman then plays East Tennessee State, a team being outscored by 2.8 PPG.

IONA is 15-3 SU and 14-3-1 ATS versus conference opponents that allow 66.0 PPG or fewer

Average score: Iona 69.3, Opponent 60.3

Average line: -2.7

Steve's analysis: Iona has enjoyed great success against the best defensive teams in the MAAC, outscoring them by 9.0 points. A Feb. 15 matchup at Saint Peter’s figures to be the next time this trend is tested.

LOUISVILLE is 11-0 SU and 10-1 ATS versus conference opponents with an average rebounding differential of + 1.5 or worse

Average score: Louisville 79.5, Opponent 63.2

Average line: -9.1

Steve's analysis: Syracuse is currently being outrebounded by its opponents and will host Louisville on Saturday.

MICHIGAN is 38-20 SU and 37-21 ATS versus conference opponents with an average point differential of + 7.5 or more

Average score: Michigan 71.8, Opponent 66.8

Average line: -1.8

Steve's analysis: It has been a frustrating season for the Wolverines, but maybe they can lean on this trend against the Big Ten’s best to secure an NCAA tournament berth. Michigan has some big games in the next three weeks, including two versus Purdue and others against Ohio State and Iowa.

NEVADA is 21-2 SU and 17-5-1 ATS versus conference opponents forcing fewer than 12 turnovers per game

Average score: Nevada 82.5, Opponent 69.4

Average line: -7.9

Steve’s analysis: Nevada has typically enjoyed strong offensive performances against Mountain West opponents that don’t really get after it defensively. One of those teams is San Jose State, which forces fewer than 11 turnovers per game. The two teams will meet in Reno on Feb. 16.

UC IRVINE is 28-2 SU and 24-5-1 ATS versus conference opponents forcing fewer than 12 turnovers per game

Average score: UC Irvine 72.8, Opponent 60.3 

Average line: -7

Steve's analysis: Like Nevada, UC Irvine has built a strong trend of dominating Big West opponents that don’t force a lot of turnovers, beating these teams by 12.5 PPG. The next chance to test this angle comes Feb. 10 against UC Riverside.

VILLANOVA is 33-6 SU and 27-12 ATS versus conference opponents with an average rebounding differential of + 3.8 or more

Average score: Villanova 75.8, Opponent 65.3 

Average line: -7.3

Steve's analysis: This trend points to the discipline and fundamentals of recent Wildcats teams. They haven’t been the biggest squad in the Big East, but that hasn’t mattered. A very interesting matchup awaits on Saturday when Villanova hosts Connecticut, the Big East’s top rebounding team.

WESTERN KENTUCKY is 27-7 SU and 25-8-1 ATS versus conference opponents that force an average of 14.5 turnovers or more

Average score: Western Kentucky 77.3, Opponent 69.5

Average line: -4.1

Steve's analysis: An opposite trend to Nevada and UC Irvine, Western Kentucky has been successful against Conference USA opponents that do get after it defensively. WKU’s only remaining regular-season opponent that figures to test this trend is Middle Tennessee State on Feb. 26.

Conference matchup angles: 10 negative trends over the last 5+ seasons

ARKANSAS is 11-27 SU and ATS versus conference opponents with an average point differential of + 7.5 or more

Average score: Opponent 79.4, Arkansas 73.7

Average line: + 2.2

Steve's analysis: Arkansas is enjoying a solid season but can make it even better with a couple of big wins over upcoming opponents such as Mississippi State and Auburn. Of late, the Razorbacks have struggled against the SEC’s best. We’ll see if that changes.

CAL POLY is 4-21 SU and 5-19-1 ATS versus conference opponents forcing fewer than 12 turnovers per game

Average score: Opponent 73, Cal Poly 59.6

Average line: + 6.3

Steve’s analysis: A trend in last week’s report detailed how poorly Cal Poly has played against the lowest-scoring teams in the Big West. The Mustangs also struggle against teams that don’t force a lot of turnovers. UC Irvine and UC Riverside fit the criteria.

CHARLOTTE is 7-18 SU and 6-19 ATS versus conference opponents allowing more than 73.5 PPG

Average score: Opponent 77.9, Charlotte 69.7

Average line: + 2.3

Steve's analysis: Against teams that allow a lot of points, Charlotte is scoring fewer than 70 per game. A home game Saturday against Marshall gives Charlotte a chance to turn the tide.

CINCINNATI is 23-18 SU but 12-28-1 ATS versus conference opponents that allow less than 32% 3-point shooting

Average score: Cincinnati 68.9, Opponent 67.5

Average line: -3.5

Steve's analysis: Solid three-point shooting defenses have been a tough matchup for Cincinnati. Although the Bearcats are winning more than they are losing, they’re falling short of the betting line most of the time. The Bearcats play Houston (28.5% 3-pointers allowed) on Saturday.

COASTAL CAROLINA is 2-12 SU and ATS versus conference opponents with an average rebounding differential of + 3.8 or more

Average score: Opponent 71.1, Coastal Carolina 64.9

Average line: + 0.5

Steve's analysis: Coastal Carolina is actually ranked 50th in the country in rebounding percentage, a massive improvement from recent seasons. Does this mean the Chanticleers are ready to turn this trend around Saturday versus Texas State?

DEPAUL is 1-13 SU and 3-11 ATS versus conference opponents that allow better than 35.5% 3-point shooting

Average score: Opponent 76.4, DePaul 65.7

Average line: + 5.2

Steve's analysis: This trend is an example of how bad teams just don’t win, even when the opponent has a massive weakness. Perhaps the Blue Demons have lacked the snipers to take advantage. St. John’s has the worst 3-point defense in the Big East, and the Blue Demons will host the Red Storm on Feb. 27.

FLORIDA is 5-9 SU and 3-11 ATS versus conference opponents forcing fewer than 12 turnovers per game

Average score: Florida 66.5, Opponent 66.4

Average line: -5.3

Steve's analysis: This peculiar trend underlies a potential problem for Florida of playing down to the level of the opponent. Of the 14-game sample, clashes with Georgia and Vanderbilt made up 10 of those games.

SAMFORD is 2-20 SU and 4-17-1 ATS versus conference opponents that allow less than 32% 3-point shooting

Average score: Opponent 87.1, Samford 74.1

Average line: + 7.4

Steve's analysis: Samford is allowing 87.1 points per game against teams that defend well at the 3-point line. How can the Bulldogs be expected to keep up in those games? It figures to be a problem when they host Chattanooga (31.7% 3-pointers allowed) on Wednesday.

SE MISSOURI STATE is 1-20 SU and 4-16-1 ATS versus conference opponents with an average point differential of + 7.5 or more

Average score: Opponent 83.8, SE Missouri State 68.5

Average line: + 11.2

Steve's analysis: The first trend highlighted in this report points to a huge edge for Belmont against SE Missouri State. Here’s another trend in which SEMO is expected to struggle against Belmont. Between a 46-0 angle and a 1-20 angle, do the Redhawks stand any chance in the Feb. 12 matchup?

TENNESSEE STATE is 12-27 SU and 11-28 ATS versus conference opponents that force an average of 14.5 turnovers or more

Average score: Opponent 74.3, Tennessee State 68.7

Average line: + 1.6

Steve's analysis: Tennessee State is on a slide of 22-44 overall in conference play. Neither of its next two opponents quite qualify for this trend (Belmont forces 14.4 TO/G; UT Martin forces 14.1). But after those two games, look for the Murray State-Tennessee State matchup on Feb. 10.

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