With the Super Bowl in the rearview mirror, college basketball takes center stage. Conference tournaments begin in less than two weeks, and we’re just about a month away from the start of March Madness. While a lot of bettors will be transitioning over to college hoops, the sportsbooks have a lot of data points already and the market is pretty tight.
As a result, you have to try to get ahead of teams in line for improvement or those that could have a downswing in the near future. That’s why I’m always looking for teams to fade or teams to back based on the metrics or the schedule.
Here are a couple of each for this week and beyond:
Teams to Fade
Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors dropped three in a row before blowing out Fullerton on Saturday, but a downturn had been a long time coming. Hawaii would have made the cut last week, but the focus was on the Super Bowl. Hopefully we didn’t miss the boat because I think this team could limp to the end of the season.
The Rainbow Warriors rank 342nd in the nation in turnover percentage on defense against Division I opponents. They are also 263rd in turnover percentage on offense. They’ve given up some possessions that they haven’t gotten back but have been able to thrive based on a defense that ranks in the top 100 in 3P% and top 55 in 2P%. The Rainbow Warriors have been fortunate teams have been so bad with mid-range jumpers against, because they are allowing opponents to take a “Close Two,” as defined by Bart Torvik, on 39.5% of shot attempts.
They’ve also sold out defending the 3-point line. That has been a sound defensive strategy, but I don’t think the Rainbow Warriors are this good on defense and we’ve seen that in recent games, as they have allowed more than a point per possession in four of the last six. Four of the next six are on the road, where the Rainbow Warriors have struggled.
UTEP: First-year coach Joe Golding has done a decent job with the Miners, but this team is on my fade list. UTEP has played the 13th-ranked schedule in Conference USA, and the remaining regular-season schedule is ranked as the toughest in the conference. The Miners have some really concerning shot splits that will likely hurt them against better opponents.
The Miners’ 25.8% share of shots defined as “Close Twos” ranks 355th in the nation, while their share of “Close Twos” against ranks 302nd at 39.4%. The Miners have adopted the full-court pressure defense that Golding used at Abilene Christian. As a result, they can get burned in transition.
Offensively, UTEP takes way too many mid-range jumpers, ranking 334th in “Farther Twos” shot share at 35.8%. I don’t like anything about the Miners’ offense, which ranks 313th in 2P%, and teams with better ball handlers are going to do well against their defense.
Opponents have also shot just 65.7% at the free-throw line against the Miners, which ranks 11th in the nation. The next three games are on the road, where the El Paso elevation will be no help for UTEP. This is a really strong fade candidate.
Teams to Back
North Carolina: When the Tar Heels have lost, it has been ugly, with five of their seven losses by at least 17 points. They’ve lost to some really good teams, as all seven losses have been against Quadrant I opponents (Purdue, Tennessee, Michigan, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Miami, Wake Forest), but they don’t have many of those left on the schedule.
The Tar Heels have a revenge game against Duke to round out the season and play Virginia Tech on Saturday, a team they beat by 10 at the Dean Dome earlier this season. Otherwise, UNC plays Pitt, Louisville, NC State and Syracuse. I’m worried about the Tar Heels in the tournament because they simply don’t force turnovers, but their offense has been strong throughout the season.
Interestingly, I had the Tar Heels as a fade team in the last week of January and they have gone 3-2-1 ATS since, but they needed overtime to win and cover against Louisville and were blown out by Duke. Now, though, the schedule takes a turn in a positive direction and they’re performing well, even though their last four opponents have shot 44.6% from 3. That shouldn’t continue, but the Tar Heels should keep up their offensive prowess.
Auburn: The Tigers have fallen on hard times from beyond the arc but are still winning. Over the last six games, Auburn has shot 21.9% from 3 but has gone 5-1 SU and 3-3 ATS. Auburn has struggled from 3 for most of the season but not to this degree, ranking 291st in the nation at 31.3% from deep.
The Tigers are an elite defensive team and do a lot of things well. They’re not nearly as bad from 3 as they’ve been in this latest stretch, but they’ve still had four games with more than a point per possession including two games over 1.2. Simply leveling off from 3 makes a really good, really dangerous team that much better.
They’ll be favored in five of six games to round out the regular season and I think they’ll have ATS success.