With the 2021-22 college basketball season getting underway this week, it’s helpful to find common traits among teams that have started the season very hot or very cold from a betting perspective.
I’ll be looking at the shared characteristics of teams from the last five seasons that have gone at least four games above .500 (about 70 percent ATS) or four games below .500 (about 30 percent ATS) in their first 10 games of the season. In that five-year stretch, 162 teams started hot and 170 started cold. I do this analysis by picking out 13 key categories and charting the current 358 Division I teams as to how closely they match these categories heading into the 2021-22 season. Here are the 13 characteristics:
— Steve Makinen’s Power Rating.
— Steve Makinen’s Power Rating adjustment since the end of last season.
— Number of returning starters.
— Total returning player minutes.
— Amount of improvement or decline experienced last season SU.
— Amount of improvement or decline experienced against point spreads last season.
— Offensive points per game improvement or decline last season.
— Defensive points per game improvement or decline last season.
— Point differential from last season.
— Won-lost record from last season.
— ATS record from last season.
— Number of close wins or losses last season.
— Record in final 10 games of last season.
A lot of these traits define how ready a team might be for the coming season and whether that program is trending in the right or wrong direction. This is what bettors need to look for as they speculate on teams’ expected early-season performances.
Shared Traits Of Previous Hot-Starting Teams
The following is a list of traits shared by teams that would be considered hot-starting teams over the last five seasons — those that were at least four games over .500 ATS in their first 10 games. Again, 162 teams since the start of the 2016 season accomplished this. So finding several teams that reach this feat can go a long way in building your early-season college basketball bankroll.
Of the 162 hot-starting teams over the last five seasons, about 75 percent:
— Went into the season with a Steve Makinen Power Rating of 67 or higher.
— Had a Steve Makinen Power Rating that went up, stayed the same or didn’t drop more than one point from the end of last season to now.
— Had at least two starters returning.
— Had at least 45 percent of returning player minutes back.
— Didn’t drop more than 10 percent outright in won-lost record from the previous season to last season, so were not trending downward.
— Didn’t drop more than 10 percent ATS from the previous season to last season, so the performance level wasn’t trending downward in the eyes of oddsmakers.
— Didn’t drop off in scoring by 3.5 points or more from the previous season to last season, so their offensive performance isn’t trending downward.
— Didn’t allow an increase of 2.0 ppg or more defensively from the previous season to last season, so their defensive performance isn’t trending downward.
— Didn’t outscore their opponents last season.
— Won at least 45 percent of their games last season.
— Won at least 45 percent of their games ATS last season.
— Had at least four close losses of five points or fewer last season.
— Won at least four of their final 10 games last season.
After fitting these traits to the 358 Division I teams for 2021-22, these are the teams that had perfect scores of 13 in matching criteria and hence would be considered the best teams to get off to fast starts for bettors:
Appalachian State: The Mountaineers have a nearly intact roster coming back from their 17-12 season of a year ago, their best record since 2010. Coach Dustin Kerns starts his third year in the program with seven of the first 10 games at home.
Arkansas State: The Red Wolves were just 11-13 last season but have all five starters back in coach Mike Balado’s fifth season. The first chance to back Arkansas State will be Friday at Illinois.
Buffalo: The Bulls are expected to win the MAC and have all but one starter back from their 16-9 team last season. After an early NIT loss last year, the expectations are for a run in the NCAA tournament. Four of Buffalo’s first seven games are true road games, with two against ranked foes, starting Wednesday night at No. 6 Michigan.
Chattanooga: Lamont Paris begins his fifth season at Chattanooga with his team coming off its best season since the memorable 2015-16 campaign. Paris has two first-team all-Southern Conference performers back in addition to two other starters.
Drexel: The Dragons reached the NCAA tournament last year after a modest 12-7 regular season. However, it was the first winning record the program has enjoyed since 2014, and things could be trending up as Drexel brings back three starters, including Camren Wynter, an all-Colonial Athletic Association pick.
Florida Atlantic: FAU could be turning the corner, coming off a 13-10 season, its first winning record in a decade. Three starters are back, including both double-digit scorers in the back court. We’ll probably know more about the Owls after their opener Wednesday at New Mexico.
Jacksonville State: After a rough 2019-20 season, JSU rebounded with an 18-9 record a year ago and will bring back five starters to try to continue the momentum. The Gamecocks could be a dangerous foe in the early going, with road stops at Wichita State, Troy, Elon, VCU and Alabama in the first 10 games.
Loyola Marymount: It wouldn’t seem that LMU has what it takes to compete for the West Coast Conference crown, but the Lions figure to threaten the top three. They have all five starters back for coach Stan Johnson’s second season, including all-WCC performer Eli Scott. Keep an eye on the game Nov. 17 against Little Rock, a team you’ll find on the cold-starting list.
Memphis: The Tigers begin their fourth season under coach Penny Hardway as a ranked team. Expectations are high with a freshman, Jalen Duren, commanding most of the spotlight. The Tigers won the NIT last spring, and that momentum could propel them to a big start this fall.
Nevada: The Wolf Pack get all five starters back from a 16-10 team of a year ago, and most experts give coach Steve Alford’s club a shot to make a run toward the Mountain West title. Led by returning all-MWC performer Grant Sherfield, look for experienced Nevada to get off to a good start with seven games in the season’s first 16 days.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels are starting anew this season, with Hubert Davis taking over for longtime coach Roy Williams. The team is ranked after its ugly NCAA first-round ouster by Wisconsin last March. Four starters are back, and Davis figures to be the breath of fresh air this program needed.
NC State: The Wolfpack bowed out in the first round of the NIT, and despite a late surge, they didn’t look ready to ascend to the next level yet. That could change this year with three starters back and no true road games until Dec. 29 at Miami.
Ole Miss: Coach Kermit Davis’ team suffered a first-round NIT exit after a 16-11 regular season but brings back four starters and has the experience to challenge opponents like Marquette, an entry on the cold list.
Oregon State: After a 20-13 season capped by a run to the Elite Eight, Oregon State is definitely trending up. With three starters back in coach Wayne Tinkle’s eighth season, he hopes the team can pick up where it left off last March. First-week trips to Iowa State and Tulsa could be a good proving ground.
Seattle: Western Athletic Conference opponents will have to contend with a very experienced Seattle team that brings back all five starters, including Darrion Trammell and Riley Grigsby, who combined for nearly 40 ppg last year. Don’t discount the Redhawks’ chances early, as eight of their first 10 games are at home.
UCLA: We all remember what UCLA accomplished last March, and the Bruins bring back four starters, including national Player of the Year candidate Johnny Juzang. So the bar is even higher. The Bruins have some huge early-season games, such as Villanova and Gonzaga, and coach Mick Cronin hopes his team can recapture the momentum it had from its magical March run.
Washington State: The Cougars are coming off their best record since 2011, and coach Kyle Smith begins his third season in Pullman with a team led by 21-ppg scorer Michael Flowers. This will be a team to watch early with eight of its first 10 games at home.
Wofford: After a relatively quiet last two seasons, Wofford looks to get back to the pattern of making noise in the Southern Conference and nationally. Three starters are back, and this is a big season for coach Jay McAuley to prove he can match the success of predecessor Mike Young.
Shared Traits Of Previous Cold-Starting Teams
The following is a list of traits shared by teams that would be considered cold-starting teams over the last five seasons — those that were at least four games under .500 ATS in their first 10 games. Again, 170 teams since the start of the 2016 season accomplished this, and spotting these teams early in the process can be very beneficial to bettors.
Of the 170 hot-starting teams over the last five seasons, about 75 percent:
— Went into the season with a Steve Makinen Power Rating of 78 or lower.
— Had a Steve Makinen Power Rating that went down, stayed the same or didn’t climb more than 1.5 points from the end of the last season to now.
— Had at most three starters returning.
— Had at most 70 percent of returning player minutes back.
— Didn’t improve more than 10 percent outright in won-lost record from the previous season to last season, so are not trending upward.
— Didn’t improve more than 10 percent ATS from the previous season to last season, so their performance level isn’t trending upward in the eyes of oddsmakers.
— Didn’t rise in scoring by 3.5 points or more from the previous season to last season, so their offensive performance isn’t trending upward.
— Didn’t allow a drop of 3.0 ppg or fewer defensively from the previous season to last season, so their defensive performance isn’t trending upward.
— Didn’t outscore their opponents by at least 5.0 ppg last season.
— Won at most 65 percent of their games last season.
— Won at most 57 percent of their games ATS last season.
— Had at least four close wins of five points or fewer last season.
— Won at most six of their final 10 games last season.
After fitting these traits to the 358 Division I teams for 2021-22, these are the teams that had perfect scores of 13 in matching criteria and hence would be considered the best teams to get off to slow starts for bettors and could present nice fade opportunities in the opening month:
Army: The Black Knights were 12-10 last season for their first winning campaign since 2016 but are expected to fall to eighth place or so in the 10-team Patriot League.
Austin Peay: Former Duke assistant Nate James takes over at Austin Peay, and his first stint atop the program figures to be a challenge, with just one starter back from last year’s 14-13 team. Among the first 10 games are two non-board contests and eight true road games.
Cincinnati: Last season was one of turmoil for the Bearcats, with coach John Brennan forced out after allegations of improprieties. Wes Miller steps in for his first season, and though he has three starters back, the Bearcats have little momentum and are projected to be a middle-of-the-road AAC team. With a 33-55 ATS record the last three seasons, backing Cincinnati early would seem a large gamble.
College of Charleston: Charleston was one of the hot mid-major programs in the latter part of the last decade. However, the last two seasons have slowed that momentum dramatically, and new coach Pat Kelsey faces what could be a bottoming-out scenario. Just one starter returns from last year’s 9-10 team, and the Cougars face several tough early tests, including two opponents from the potential hot list.
Dayton: After a huge 2019-20 season, the Flyers took an expected big step back last year, going 14-10. Although the tone is optimistic this season, the numbers don’t agree. Just one starter is back, and Dayton loses its two top scorers from last spring’s NIT team.
Fairleigh Dickinson: FDU has had just two winning seasons since 2006. Last year was not one of them at 9-15, and with just two starters back in an experience-laden season, this year doesn’t figure to be one either.
Georgia: Tom Crean’s biggest accomplishment at Georgia might wind up being recruiting Anthony Edwards, who was the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick a year and a half ago. The on-court results haven’t been anywhere near as spectacular. For 2021-22, only one starter is back in a veteran SEC, and the Bulldogs are picked to finish last. Two of their first seven games are against teams from the potential hot list.
Grambling: The Tigers’ resume heading into the 2021-22 season isn’t nearly as sketchy as some of the other teams on the cold list, but nevertheless, they check all the boxes as a potential slow-starting team. Keep that in mind as you track their progress in four straight tough road tilts to open the season.
Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors had a forgettable 2020-21 COVID-19 campaign, going just 11-10 SU and 8-11 ATS. This season they have two starters back and modest expectations in the Big West.
Hofstra: Fans of the Pride will love seeing Speedy Claxton atop the Hofstra program in his first head-coaching gig, but bettors should be wary of backing his team early in the season. Hofstra has three starters back, but Claxton will have to prove he is ready for the job, especially with a torrid five-game road stretch to start the season.
Illinois-Chicago: COVID-19 and other injury-related problems soiled the first season for coach Luke Yaklich, and expectations aren’t very high for his Flames this time around either. Something will have to give in the early going, though, as two of this team’s first five games are against teams on the cold list, Dayton and Hawaii.
Jacksonville: The Dolphins are on the opposite list from their conference mates in the Atlantic Sun. While Jacksonville State has all five starters back and is coming off an 18-9 campaign, Jacksonville brings back just three starters from its 11-13 squad. First-year coach Jordan Mincy, who assisted at Florida, could have his hands full.
Little Rock: Little Rock followed its 20-win season of 2019-20 by going 11-15 last year. Its record of 6-18-1 ATS was also among the worst in the country, so there’s little momentum to pull from to start this season. That start includes several tough road and neutral-court games among the first 10.
Marquette: Marquette really hasn’t had a season up to expectations since 2013, when the team went 26-9. Gone is coach Steve Wojciechowski, and stepping in is Shaka Smart. The goals for 2021-22 are very modest, as Smart inherits one of the most inexperienced rosters in the country and his style is obviously different from his predecessor. This season could be a struggle, so do not overpay for Marquette early.
Minnesota: You will probably not recognize anyone on first-year coach Ben Johnson’s roster early in the season, as it is built from recruits and transfers. After two straight seasons under .500, departing coach Richard Pitino left this program ablaze. Don’t expect much, and bad teams don’t cover either.
North Dakota: UND lost its best player from a season ago, Filip Rebraca, to Iowa, and though three other starters return, the challenge for third-year coach Paul Sather is a big one. His team was just 9-17 last year, and overall he has just a 20-36 ATS mark with the Fighting Hawks.
Northern Arizona: The Lumberjacks have fallen on tough times, with four single-digit win-total seasons in six years. Things don’t figure to get a lot better this season with just two of their five starters back in an experienced Big Sky Conference. As usual, the Lumberjacks challenge themselves early with trips to Arizona and Washington tipping off the campaign.
Northwestern State: Even in a season when players were granted extra eligibility, Northwestern State lost several of its top players, some to the transfer portal and some just not wanting to return. The challenge for 2021-22 will be improving on an 11-18 record with an inexperienced roster. The Demons will be overmatched in almost all their early-season board contests.
Omaha: The Mavericks’ roster has been a revolving door the last few seasons, and it will be hard for coach Derrin Hansen to turn around a program that finished 5-20 last year. After opening the season against Hastings College, it’s not hard to see Omaha losing its next eight games.
South Dakota: A.J. Plitzuweit was South Dakota’s leading scorer in February. He suffered a horrific knee injury and was lost for the rest of last season and this season. Stanley Umude, who then took over as leading scorer, left for the professional ranks. In other words, South Dakota has a lot of production to replace. Last year’s 14-11 record will be hard to match.
Texas-Arlington: UTA brings back just two starters and welcomes a new coach in Greg Young, who spent the last 12 years as an assistant. The Mavericks were just 9-14 ATS last year, the program’s worst point-spread record since it became a full-time board team in 2013.
UNLV: There’s a lot of change at UNLV this season, and while plenty of fans are excited for what the future might bring under first-time coach Kevin Kruger, the simple fact is that UNLV meets all the criteria for a team that might struggle out of the gate. Only one starter is back, and two of the first six games are against Top 6 teams.
Western Carolina: Justin Gray left an attractive assistant’s job at Winthrop for a chance to run his own program. He might regret it after 10 games, as Western Carolina figures to have its hands full early. Not only is just one starter back from last year’s 11-16 team, but just two of the first nine games are at home.