College basketball power rankings for the new year

January 2, 2023 06:45 PM
Darius_Johnson

With the 2022-23 college football bowl season in the rearview mirror, many bettors and fans will turn their full attention to the hoops season, which is nearly two months in already. That’s how it goes in college sports, as most people tend to dabble in the sport until this point. In addition, with conference play beginning in earnest, bettors are more familiar with the matchups. With that in mind, I figured it would be good timing to get everybody caught up on the state of the 2022-23 season, particularly the top and bottom teams and those that are vastly different in terms of strength or pace from last season. Read on as I go through the status of all five of my strength ratings and reveal some other key numbers that will help you navigate the upcoming college basketball schedule.

For my most current strength ratings, visit the TEAM POWER RATINGS page under the NCAAMBB tab on VSiN.com.

Power Ratings

For anyone in the betting markets, you will almost surely recognize that the AP Poll Rankings and most reputable power ratings don’t always match up exactly. The polls tend to reflect won-lost records more than actual strength. Case in point, in the AP Poll this week, Purdue is #1 for the fourth week in a row. On my Power Ratings, it’s been mostly Houston atop the numbers in recent weeks. You will see shortly that the Cougars are #1 in two of my other rating sets, a big reason why I have them as my top team right now. Purdue, with an 87 PR, actually ranks 10th for me. With the thought of poll rankings not equaling strength ratings on my mind, it should be noted that the same teams that are ranked in the top 10 in the most recent poll also occupy the top 10 spots in my Power Ratings, albeit in a different order.

Here are the current top 10 teams in my Power Ratings, with a brief explanation of how they’ve gotten there:

  1. HOUSTON – The Cougars are 14-1, outscoring opponents by over 24 PPG. They rank 5th in effective offense and 2nd in effective defense, two huge factors I consider in potential national title qualification. The only loss came at the hands of Alabama, and it might be the only setback they’ll suffer before NCAA tourney time.
  2. CONNECTICUT– UConn’s PR of 90 is two behind Houston’s, but the Huskies figure to be just as much of a title threat, ranking #2 in effective offense and #4 in defense. Their first loss came just this past weekend at the hands of Xavier.
  3. ARIZONA – The Wildcats are the top offensive team in the country in my effective points per possession numbers, scoring 88.7 PPG. Another one-loss team (at Utah), Arizona has gotten hot of late, winning their last seven.
  4. TENNESSEE – The Volunteers athletic program is in as good of shape as it’s ever been after the football team just finished a huge season by winning the Orange Bowl. The hoops team is doing well for itself, however, in a different fashion. In football, it was an explosive offense. On the hardwood, Tennessee is the country’s #1 team in effective defensive points per possession. The Vols have two losses, most recently to Arizona prior to the holiday.
  5. UCLA – The Bruins are one of four teams I currently have rated with an 89.5 PR. UCLA lost back-to-back games in Las Vegas in November but has since won its last 10, with six of the decisions coming by 20+ points.
  6. KANSAS – The Jayhawks are the hottest team in the country right now in my Recent Ratings, having beaten both Indiana and Seton Hall by 20+ points in recent weeks. Their only loss of the year came to Tennessee, so this team looks poised to defend its title in April.
  7. GONZAGA – No top 10 team has challenged itself as much as Gonzaga, as their schedule thus far ranks #8 in the country in toughness. HC Mark Few’s team has suffered three losses, all to teams in the top 11 of my current Power Ratings. The numbers are not as good as the past few seasons, however, and those teams came up short at tournament time. Can this one finally overachieve?
  8. TEXAS – The Longhorns have endured some adversity this season in light of Head Coach Chris Beard’s suspension, but they have still played well, outscoring opponents by 20 PPG in going 12-1. However, Texas is just 1-4 ATS since Beard has been away, and there could be reason for long-term concern.
  9. ALABAMA – The Tide are 11-2, but the losses came at the hands of Gonzaga and UConn, so clearly nothing to be ashamed of. They’ve also beaten Houston, North Carolina, and Michigan State, and have played the nation’s 5th toughest schedule. That should have this team ready to contend in the SEC and for postseason success.
  10. PURDUE - #1 ranked Purdue (in AP Poll) checks in at #10 in large part because on an Effective Strength Rating of #9 and a Recent Rating of 40th. The Boilermakers are actually 0-6-1 ATS in their last seven games, perhaps signaling potential trouble in Big Ten play.

If you’re interested in the bottom five teams in my current Power Ratings, you’ll find #363 Long Island with a 52.5 PR, a number shared by Mississippi Valley State, followed by Hartford & IUPUI (53), then Lamar (54).

Here are the biggest upward movers in my Power Ratings since the conclusion of last season:

1. Southern Mississippi: +14

2. James Madison: +11.5

3. American: +10

4. Pittsburgh: +10

5. New Mexico: +9.5

6. Florida Atlantic: +8.5

7. Stonehill: +8.5

8. Duquesne: +8

9. Pepperdine: +8

10. Indiana State: +7.5

Here are the biggest downward movers in my Power Ratings since the conclusion of last season:

1. Long Island: -13.5

2. Monmouth: -13

3. Saint Peter's: -13

4. Hartford: -11

5. Loyola-Illinois: -11

6. Murray State: -11

7. Morehead State: -9.5

8. Davidson: -9

9. South Dakota State: -9

10. VMI: -8.5

Effective Strength Ratings

Houston is my top team in the Effective Strength Ratings, meaning statistically speaking, the Cougars are better than all other 362 teams. In fact, with an ESR of 27.1, they are 2.6 points better than anyone else. UConn is #2 at 24.5, followed by Tennessee (23.8), UCLA (21.6), and Texas (20.1). Typically, a rating of 18.5 or better makes a team a bona fide title contender. At this point, nine teams are befitting of that, with Purdue at #9 being the last at 18.6. If you put this in perspective, Houston is actually 8.5 points superior to Purdue right now, despite the latter being the top-ranked team in the polls.

On the opposite end, Long Island has a firm grasp of the title as the worst team in D-1 basketball, with an Effective Strength Rating of -24. Hartford (-22.9), IUPUI (-20), MVSU (-18.7) and Lamar (-18.6) round out the bottom five. In essence, there is a 51.1-point difference between the worst and best teams in the country.

Here are the teams that are perhaps “most underrated” if you consider that their ESR rankings are much better than their PRs:

  1. SIU Edwardsville: 78 spots different in rankings
  2. Queens: 59
  3. Tarleton State: 56
  4. Utah Tech :56
  5. Southern Mississippi: 52

Here are the teams that are perhaps “most overrated” if you consider that their ESR rankings are much worse than their PRs:

  1. Louisville: 79 spots different in rankings
  2. South Dakota: 77
  3. South Carolina: 63
  4. Abilene Christian: 59
  5. Loyola-IL: 54

Bettors Ratings

Like me, most bettors also respect Houston quite a bit, as the Cougars are the #1 team in my Bettors Ratings, an indicator that essentially reveals what the betting markets think of teams. They have a BR of -20.5, 0.5 points better than runner-up Tennessee. Texas checks in at #3 with a BR of -19.8. This means that according to how bettors have viewed the teams over the first eight full weeks of the ’22-23 college basketball season, the Cougars would be favored over anyone in any theoretical neutral contest. The other rating sets share that optimism, but it shows how much bettors continue to respect Head Coach Kelvin Sampson’s team, regardless of what the polls show with Purdue. The Boilermakers are actually 7th in this metric, with a BR of -18.1. This indicates that bettors find Houston to be a 2.4-points better team right now.  

Two SWAC teams occupy the bottom spots in the BRs, with Mississippi Valley State at +20.6 and Florida A&M at +19.7. IUPUI, Long Island, and Delaware State round out the bottom five. I mentioned in the ESR section that there was a 51-point difference between the top and bottom teams in Division 1 basketball. In the BRs, that margin is just 41.1 points.

Here are the teams that are perhaps “most underrated” by the markets if you consider that their BR rankings are much worse than their PRs:

  1. George Mason: 56 spots different in rankings
  2. Eastern Washington: 56
  3. UNC-Wilmington: 53
  4. Stony Brook: 52
  5. Nicholls State: 51

Here are the teams that are perhaps “most overrated” if you consider that their BR rankings are much better than their PRs:

  1. Tarleton State: 64 spots different in rankings
  2. Sacred Heart: 58
  3. LaSalle: 53
  4. Towson State: 52
  5. N Arizona: 50

Recent Ratings

The Recent Ratings are, and always will be, where we see the most variation from the other strength indicators. Kansas tops this chart with a RR of 27.1. The next team in line is Connecticut, who despite a first loss this past weekend, checks in with a RR of 23.9. Arizona, Tennessee, and UCLA round out the top five, while we don’t get a glimpse of top-ranked Purdue until #40 in the RRs at 12.3. Four teams to keep an eye on that aren’t rated that high overall but playing well of late are Providence, Florida Atlantic, Rutgers, and TCU, ranked #7-#10 in the RRs.

Who is the “coldest” team in college basketball right now? Well, with a quick scan of the RRs, you’ll again find the usual teams, with Long Island at the very bottom with a RR of -25.2. Bethune-Cookman, Lamar, Monmouth, and Hartford are only marginally better of late. The major conference team with the lowest Recent Rating? Louisville, not surprising when you consider the 2-12 won-lost mark this season.

Schedule Strength Ratings

The Schedule Strength Ratings reflect the difficulty of each team’s 2022-23 schedule they have played. Three SWAC teams have taken turns as punching bags for the power conference teams and top these ratings. Arkansas-Pine Bluff is at the top with an SOS of 80.54, followed by Florida A&M (80.24) and Texas Southern (78.79). These numbers represent the average power rating of the opponents they have played had they been on a neutral court. If you’re wondering what a typical college basketball team with a Power Rating of 79.5-80 is, consider Ole Miss or Seton Hall. Other teams that have played tough schedules include Nicholls State, Alabama, Jackson State, North Carolina, and Gonzaga. If you’re wondering which t teams have played the weakest slates to date, look no further than Arkansas State and TCU. Will this have these teams ready for conference play? I doubt it.

Tempo Changes

One of the most important factors in handicapping teams and game totals is the pace at which they play. When considering their Effective Possessions per Game stats in comparison to last season, here are the teams playing much faster in ’22-23:

1. High Point: +6.7 Effective Possessions Per Game

2. Florida International: +6.2

3. Florida: +5.8

4. Missouri: +5.7

5. Jackson State: +5.7

6. Tarleton State: +5.7

7. Cal Davis: +5

8. Nicholls State: +4.9

9. Evansville: +4.7

10. Alabama A&M: +4.4

Here are the teams playing much slower than last season:

1. South Carolina: -6.5 Effective Possessions Per Game

2. Arkansas State: -5.7

3. Nebraska: -5.1

4. Cleveland State: -4.8

5. UCF: -4.7

6. Stony Brook: -4.4

7. Charlotte: -4.2

8. Florida Gulf Coast: -4

9. Mississippi Valley State: -4

10. Nevada: -3.8

When you consider that each possession amounts to about 2.2 points on average in college basketball, you can see how big of a difference this change in possessions can make towards totals.

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