Home, road results good tourney indicators?

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This unusual college basketball season has been a challenge for the betting industry on both sides of the counter. One of the biggest struggles bettors and oddsmakers have faced is implementing points for home-court advantage. Clearly, the absence of spectators and the fanfare that accompanies a college basketball game has had a big impact. The consensus I’ve heard from industry colleagues is that the advantage of playing at home has been cut in half. I think it’s a bit less than that and have trimmed my home- and road-court designation to about 2.0 points from last year’s 3.5-point value.

Not every team has been affected the same. Some teams have actually thrived in this environment, while others have floundered. Much has been dictated by the quality of coaching, the mental makeup of the players and the value of the atmosphere before COVID-19. For instance, Duke has been affected greatly, as its young players joined the program with dreams of playing in front of the raucous Cameron Crazies. Without that motivation, the Blue Devils have struggled. At the same time, teams like Colorado and Colorado State, whose fans and student sections typically aren’t well-known assets, are thriving at home, perhaps in part due to weather and elevation differences playing a bigger role than usual.

Several road performances have also stood out. Two of the top road performers are power-conference programs that typically don’t fare quite as well away from home. Alabama of the SEC and Notre Dame of the ACC have improved on the road this season, and perhaps it’s because they aren’t overwhelmed by the massive opposing crowds they are used to seeing. The same can’t be said for Minnesota and Clemson, who have struggled horribly away from home, regardless of the limited fans.

This year’s update of my true home- and road-court performance ratings is perhaps a little more important than in previous seasons in that so much is different. I believe there are two ways to assign home- and road-court points: standard assignments and team-specific edges. Obviously, I prefer the latter, as specific performance trends warrant treating each team individually from a theoretical and numbers standpoint. 

As you read the following lists, consider what impact these figures might have on teams’ postseason prospects. I believe you still have to figure that the teams struggling most on the road will face the greatest obstacles in their quests for conference or postseason tournament success. The teams with the best true road-court ratings could be set up to make late runs. 

To determine which teams hold the best true home- and road-court performances, I have taken the teams’ logs for this season’s home and road games, ignoring neutral courts. I compared their own average power rating in those games to their opponents’ average power rating, using my logged numbers for every game. This number would be considered the margin they should have won or lost by when meeting on a neutral court, or the expected margin. I then compared this amount to the actual point differential the team had accumulated in those games. Obviously, the teams with greater actual differentials than expected differentials played the best in that scenario. I included only teams that have played at least five road or five home games. I typically look back over three seasons, but with this season’s unique conditions, I figured it would be more valuable to share the 2020-21 numbers on their own.

My college basketball home-court ratings range between 1.25 and 2.75 points for 2020-21. My road ratings for every team are between + 0.75 and -0.75. Another important thing to consider is that I don’t specifically assign the ratings exactly with the order of the true performance indicators, as I also give strong consideration to straight-up and ATS records as well as some obvious perceptions. 

Let’s look at the best and worst college basketball teams in terms of true home- and road-court performance this season. You’ll find a list of the top five differentials. Use these findings to take advantage of lines that might not be accounting for the actualities the rest of the way. The charts are sorted by the far right column in gray, which indicates the true performance edge. Negative numbers are considered disadvantageous. For Duke, the -3.6 rating means the Blue Devils are theoretically yielding 3.6 points to opponents in every home game this season, a number that is virtually opposite most seasons.

Following are the lists of the biggest differentials between home and road performances. Consider that Minnesota has performed 19.1 points better at home as compared with on the road. It’s crazy to go against these numbers and back the Gophers away from Minneapolis.

Top 10 teams with better true home-court performances

1. Minnesota: + 19.1 

2. Pacific: + 18.5

3. Abilene Christian: + 18.4

4. Clemson: + 17.3

5. UC-Irvine: + 16.4

6. Arkansas-Pine Bluff: + 15.6

7. Stephen F. Austin: + 15

8. Furman: + 14.9

9. Mount St. Mary’s: + 14.7

10. VMI: + 14.6

Top 10 teams with better true road-court performances

1. Bowling Green: + 9.7 

2. Richmond: + 9.5

3. Morgan State: + 8.2

4. UC-Riverside: + 6.2

5. Grambling: + 5.7

6. Wisconsin Milwaukee: + 4.3

7. Wright State: + 3.4

8. New Mexico: + 3.4

9. Binghamton: + 3.3

10. Boston College: + 3.2

NCAA tournament committee releases first Top 16 rankings

The first NCAA tournament committee rankings were released last weekend as we move quickly toward Selection Sunday on March 14. This is always a big moment for fans, but bettors should generally ignore rankings of these types. The true strength of teams and their capabilities of winning the national championship are better reflected in the title odds offered by sportsbooks and in the strength ratings of people like me, who analyze the key data points daily. 

Too often it’s a blended mess of quantity and quality of wins with little weight given to recent performance or personnel concerns. For 2020-21, it seems strength of schedule has essentially blanketed every other factor. How can one not even consider Loyola (Chicago) for these ratings? How is Missouri considered a No. 4 seed with what is currently my No. 49 power rating? I had several questions for committee members in my head as they revealed the rankings. Let me share some of those to see if we can find value in futures odds. 

The seedings in the NCAA’s first release were as follows:

No. 1 seeds: Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, Ohio State

No. 2 seeds: Villanova, Houston, Illinois, Alabama

No. 3 seeds: Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia

No. 4 seeds: Texas Tech, Missouri, Texas, Iowa

Here are my observations:

— Two teams have separated themselves from the pack, Baylor and Gonzaga. With both showing odds of + 300 to win the title, it could be argued that placing title bets on both has some investment value. I’m not sure any other team in the country boasts the package of talent, size, experience and explosiveness these stalwarts do. With Gonzaga at a 97 power rating on my scale and Baylor at 95.5, no other team is within 4.5 points.

— The true value team on this board when considering pure strength ratings is Iowa. The Hawkeyes have lost four of their last seven games against prepared Big Ten opponents, but they might be the team most capable offensively in the entire country. Luka Garza has the potential to be the tournament’s most outstanding player and could put this team on his back for a six-game run. With just a day or two to prepare for Iowa in a tournament setting, any team will face an extremely difficult matchup, and thus + 1800 to win it all or + 250 to reach the Final Four looks appetizing.

— Coincidentally, the four No. 1 seeds are the same teams ranked 1-4 in my most recent rankings. This is always an important category come March, and I produce specific brackets projecting the field based on it in our annual NCAA Tournament Betting Guide.

— The committee’s list of the top 16 teams contains some notable omissions when weighed against my current strength ratings. Loyola (Chicago) and Creighton are the first teams that come to mind. Not coincidentally, these are teams whose strength of schedule might have come into question. But schedule strength is a huge component of how I develop my ratings, so the fact that both undervalued programs are ranked in the top 12 in my power ratings lends them value as potential Final Four wagers. Florida State is another such candidate.

— Whenever omissions are cited, other teams might not belong. To me, Missouri is the most questionable team. I haven’t had the Tigers in consideration for such a high seed at any point this season. Their current power rating of 82 ranks 49th on my scale. Texas is the other team that probably should be removed by the time we get to March. The Longhorns are the 60th-best team in the country in my recent ratings.

— A handful of potential contenders have really come on strong in recent weeks and could be in line to move up among the top 16 seeds in the coming weeks. According to my recent ratings, Florida is the seventh-best team in the country lately. The Gators might have been written off after losing Keyontae Johnson in December. Also among the recent leaders, No. 10 San Diego State, No. 11 Rutgers and No. 13 USC could prove tested enough to make a run.

— A few weeks ago when I produced a chart illustrating the shared characteristics of previous champions, offensive prowess far outweighed defensive strength, although a healthy blend of the two is always considered best. In that regard, LSU is a potential sleeper. Athletic and talented as always, the Tigers currently rank sixth in the country in my Effective Offensive Points Per Possession stat. They are + 900 right now to reach the Final Four, an eye-catching opportunity.

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