The start of the college basketball season is a really tough time for a lot of recreational bettors. While there is a ton of value to be had, there is only so much time in the day. It is just so hard to be prepared for the season with everything else that goes on in October and early November.
Based on the sheer number of teams, and the fact that football still takes up the vast majority of time, effort and manpower for the sportsbooks, money can be made. As a result, sharp bettors are often the ones attacking the soft, illiquid market early in the season. Truthfully, you can learn a lot about which teams are mispriced and which teams influential bettors are higher or lower on by watching the market moves and taking notes.
My strategy for betting college basketball requires sample size, so I typically wait a little while. I need to be able to dive into the stats to look for some positive- and negative-regression teams. I need some strength-of-schedule data to analyze. I need to see how these teams are coming together with so many new faces with the transfer portal, incoming freshmen and coaching changes.
Easing into the season allows me to have something to process, instead of just speculating about how teams might do because of strong recruiting classes or big-name transfers.
The season is still very young and few data points are available, but I use my writing and research as a way to really dig into a season, and it’s about time to start doing that. This weekly feature at VSiN.com and in Point Spread Weekly will seek out some stats ripe for positive or negative regression that will allow you to isolate some teams and consider their games a little bit deeper.
Narrowing the college basketball card is important because a lot of handicappers don’t have enough time to look at every game. Having a focus and then being able to attack specific games is a necessary shortcut and an efficient use of your time.
Before diving too deeply into specific teams, I need to address the topic of regression. I like to do a lot of regression-analysis handicapping across all sports, meaning I look for stats that appear to be unsustainable one way or the other. You can think of them as outliers.
I won’t bore you with long, detailed explanations, but most stats fall into a certain range, with teams at the top and teams at the bottom and everybody else in between. If those extremes look too big, I’ll expect what is called regression to the mean. The mean is the average of a set of numbers. Some teams will be better than the mean, and some teams will be worse. The trick is to find the teams that shouldn’t be overachieving or underachieving as much as they are and using that to your advantage.
By using some of these stats and concepts in your handicap, I think we should be able to find some good fade and follow teams. These are not sole justifications for a bet but an integral part of the handicapping process for a game.
The fade teams are in line for negative regression in certain areas, meaning they are likely to come down closer to the mean. The follow teams are teams in line for positive regression in certain areas, meaning they are likely to go up closer to the mean.
A quick glossary of stats:
MR percent — midrange shooting percentage vs. the average opponent as defined by Haslametrics.
Percent MRA — percent of midrange shots vs. the average opponent.
NP percent — near-proximity (dunks, layups, tip-ins) shooting percentage vs. the average opponent.
Percent NPA — percentage of shots that are near-proximity vs. the average opponent.
These stats are as of games through Monday.
Teams to Fade
Washington State: The Cougars are off to a nice 5-0 start, including solid wins over UC Santa Barbara and Winthrop. As a general rule, I dislike teams that take a lot of midrange jumpers or rely on them to score. They are low-percentage shots without the value of the bonus point for making a 3.
Washington State leads the nation in MR percent at 46.43 percent. This is a team that has shot 45.5 percent and 45.7 percent on 2-point shots the last two seasons, ranking 318th and 305th, respectively, in the nation those two seasons. This season the Cougars are off to a 59.7 percent start on 2-pointers.
There is another great Haslametrics stat called percentNPA, which stands for near-proximity field goal attempt percentage vs. the average opponent. These are layups, dunks and tip-ins. The higher this number, the more likely the offense is to have success on 2-point shots. The Cougars are 216th in this department.
They’re making a high rate of midrange shots right now, and that is unlikely to continue. They don’t get to the rim enough to sustain a high 2P percent. They’re solid enough on defense to be a quality team, but this offensive success won’t continue, especially as the level of competition increases.
Iona: The Gaels are 5-0 and making some serious waves under second-year coach Rick Pitino, but we need to pump the brakes a bit on this bunch. The Gaels do have some really nice wins over Harvard, Hofstra and Liberty, but they’ve been fortunate.
I don’t just look at percent NPA on offense; I also look at it on defense. Teams are getting to the rim against the Gaels. Their percentNPA against is the seventh-highest against. Opponents just aren’t making a lot of those shots. Bart Torvik has “Close Twos” as a shooting splits category. Iona has the 37th-best FG percent against on those types of shots. Furthermore, Iona’s opponents are only shooting 23.4 percent on 3s, per Torvik.
There aren’t many proficient offenses in the MAAC, so Iona could be a good futures bet there, but upcoming nonconference games against Alabama, Yale and Seton Hall could be tough.
Teams to Back
Liberty: One of the slowest starters to the season has been Liberty. The Flames are 0-3 against Division I teams, with losses to LSU, Iona and Manhattan. In those three games, the Flames shot 25.8 percent from 3 and made less than 50 percent of their Close Twos, as defined by Torvik.
Liberty runs the right type of offense for me to like what they do. The Flames rank 347th per Haslametrics in percentMRA and 340th in midrange attempts per game vs. an average opponent. They don’t like the midrange shot. They take a lot of 3s (15th in the nation in 3P Rate last season) and typically take good care of the basketball.
To make matters worse, Liberty is shooting 64.4 percent from the free throw line, and opponents are shooting 76 percent. All these things should improve, and this slow start should give us a buy-low opportunity.
San Francisco: The Dons are capable of winning by margin because of the style they play. Coach Todd Golden has completely bought in with an analytics-based approach to basketball and has a very experienced, senior-laden group, including a lot of players who have been in the program for a while.
The Dons take a ton of 3s. In their six games, their 3P rate is almost 52 percent and ranks in the top 10 nationally. On defense, they do everything they can to rush teams off the 3-point line and force teams into midrange jumpers. Per Haslametrics, the Dons rank 11th in 3P attempts against per game and 16th in percentage of 3P attempts against vs. an average opponent.
They also crash the defensive glass effectively, something that started when Kyle Smith was there from 2017-19 and continues to this day. USF won’t keep shooting 63 percent on 2s, but it runs a smart offensive scheme that should help cover some numbers.