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No shaking home-court edge in college hoops

By Steve Makinen  () 

The college basketball season just opened a week ago, but the tip-off was loaded with

storylines, including several surprising results. In the first few days, several of the nation’s top

teams were upended, including Virginia, Kentucky, Villanova and Kansas. The Atlantic 10

Conference took credit for some of that as it appears the league could be on its way to

matching its success of last season. 

One of the biggest betting subjects we’ll want to follow is home-court advantage — what and

how much it means compared with previous seasons. Let’s dig into that and some of the biggest early-season changes we’ve seen in terms of strength and pace. In the season’s first five days, 245 lined games matching Division I opponents were played. That’s not a huge sample by college hoops standards, but it’s enough to start forming some opinions. 

Games Played at a Team’s Home Court

Fans have been nonexistent or scarce because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as in college football, this was presumed to have an effect on how much home-court advantage oddsmakers would assign. 

Here are the results of the games played on a team’s home court thus far. Keep in mind, in recent years, I have typically given college basketball teams an average of about 3.4 points of home-court advantage in nonconference games and about 0.3 less in conference games.

Average Line/Score of Non-Neutral College Basketball Games in first five days of 2020-21

season:

Home favored by 13.62 points

Average score: Home 79.83, Road 65.21

Average margin + 14.62 ppg.

Home teams are 125-26 SU, 75-71-5 ATS (51.4%)

By most accounts, it was expected that those setting the lines would reduce home-court

advantage by about 1.0-1.3 points per team. If they’ve done that thus far, the hosts are making up for it by outplaying their visiting opponents by exactly 1.0 points per game. At this point, I’m not ready to change anything, as I believe the lack of fans is just one part of the equation. Home-court advantage also entails travel issues and familiarity with the court and shooting backdrops.

Home-Court Games by Conference Strength

Some interesting early-season trends develop when you consider the strength of the

conferences represented in home-court games. Before showing those, however, here are the

strength grades I give for each conference:

A: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12, SEC

B: Atlantic 10, American Athletic, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, West Coast

C/D: All others

— “A” conference teams stepping down and hosting lower-graded teams are just 39-42-1

ATS (48.1%).

— Upset-minded “B” level conferences hosting “A” level opponents are 3-0 SU and ATS

(100%), with all games played in the + 3 to -2 line range. Home-court advantage seems to

be significant early in these matchups.

— “B” level conference teams overall have been rude hosts, going 14-6-2 ATS (70%) in

their first 20 games.

— SEC teams have been sharp at home thus far, going 10-1 SU, 8-3 ATS (72.7%), with

the only loss Kentucky falling to Richmond.

— Big Ten teams have easily hosted the most games thus far, 27, going 26-1 SU, 14-12-1 ATS (53.8%). The only loss came from Nebraska, which fell to Nevada on Thanksgiving.

— It has been a bit of a struggle for the ACC, with a record of 5-11 ATS (31.2%) in the

first 16 hosted games.

Early Favorite/Underdog Results

The favorite/underdog point-spread results are nearly split in the early going, with favorites going 119-118-7 ATS. The chalk has won 194 of the 244 games outright, however. There was one pick-’em line.

Line Moves Telling

There have been some very interesting results on games that have experienced big line moves.

On the games that have moved three points or more off their opening number, presumably because money has backed a particular side, bettors are just 18-28-2 ATS (39.1%) when following the move. Perhaps consider fading these moves in the early going until it trends the other way. 

Over or Under?

The season’s opening day had to be a nightmare for bookies on totals as 51 of the 80 games

went Over the total (63.8%). However, since then it has rebounded dramatically, with Under

holding an edge of 94-70-1 (57.3%) in the four most recent days. If you’re doing the math, you

can see there have been just two more Unders than Overs in the first 245 games.

Downward Total Moves Pay Off

Using about the same percentage breakdown of games moving a significant amount off their

opening totals, 52 games have seen their totals bounce five points or more off their opening

number. Of those that fell dramatically, signaling bettors were preferring the Under, that side of

the total was 16-9 (64%). On the games that bettors shot upward, the Over has gone just 13-14

(48.1%). I would assume the number of plays meeting this criteria will become more and more scarce, but looking for huge downward shifts on totals could continue to be a rewarding option.

Biggest Power Rating Jumps Since Last Season

Of the 244 teams that have played a lined game so far in 2020-21, these are my biggest upward

power rating moves from where they left off last March:

Howard + 8.5

Virginia Tech + 8.5

Texas + 8.0

Miami + 7.5

North Carolina + 7.0

Boston College + 6.5

Grand Canyon + 6.0

Virginia + 6.0

SMU + 6.0

East Carolina + 5.5

High Point + 5.5

Arizona State + 5.5

Nebraska + 5.5

Eastern Kentucky + 5.5

UAB + 5.0

UCLA + 5.0

Central Connecticut State + 5.0

St. Joseph’s + 5.0

Western Kentucky + 5.0

Biggest Power Rating Drops Since Last Season

These are the teams that have declined by at least five points on my power ratings since the end of the 2019-20 season:

East Tennessee State -9.5

Sacred Heart -9.0

North Florida -7.0

South Carolina State -6.0

BYU -6.0

Auburn -6.0

William & Mary -5.5

Radford -5.5

North Dakota State -5.5

Sam Houston State -5.5

Oral Roberts -5.0

Texas State -5.0

Biggest Scoring/Pace Changes Since Last Season

Here are the teams I have adjusted most upward in terms of scoring and pace. The first

number represents my overall scoring adjustment, while the number in parentheses shows their

Effective Possessions per Game change, or pace change. It’s interesting that

some of the teams’ scoring uptick and possessions uptick don’t necessarily coincide. For

instance, UNC Wilmington’s possessions haven’t changed much, but clearly the team has been more efficient in scoring.

Loyola Marymount + 13.7 (+ 5.7)

Virginia + 12 (+ 4.8)

UAB + 11.3 (+ 6.1)

Purdue + 10.9 (+ 10.5)

UC Riverside + 9.4 (+ 7.0)

Texas A&M CC + 9.2 (+ 10.1)

Arkansas-Pine Bluff + 9.1 (+ 6.1)

Baylor + 8.5 (+ 4.3)

Oakland + 8.5 (+ 7.1)

Eastern Michigan + 8.3 (+ 2.5)

Arizona State + 8.2 (+ 4.0)

UNC Wilmington + 8.2 (+ -0.2)

Minnesota + 7.8 (+ 4.2)

Navy + 7.5 (+ 8.2)

Here are the teams that have seemingly slowed it down in 2020-21 in terms of scoring and tempo. Interestingly, 10 of the 14 teams listed actually show a bit faster pace so far this season. However, their scoring efficiency is way down. In fact, only UMass-Lowell, Santa Clara and Grand Canyon have a better power rating now than last season. The scoring drop has come through an improved defensive effort.

Air Force -21 (-4.4)

Nevada -10.4 (+ 0.9)

Houston Baptist -9 (-1.4)

Delaware State -8.9 (+ 3.2)

South Dakota -8.2 (+ 3.5)

North Florida -7.9 (-1.9)

Evansville -7.8 (+ 2.5)

Rice -6.9 (+ 2.1)

Cal State Northridge -6.9 (+ 5.8)

UMass-Lowell -6.6 (+ 0.3)

Santa Clara -6.5 (-0.3)

Grand Canyon -6.2 (+ 1.7)

Tulane -6 (+ 1)

Green Bay -6 (+ 7.2)

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