As Turkey week comes to a close, three weeks of college hoops results are officially in the books. For my fellow gambling degenerates out there, this has been MORE than enough time to evaluate your decision to resume wagering on what is undeniably most fun sport to bet on. While during this time I am thankful for friends and family, I am WAY more thankful to find myself with a .500 college hoop gambling record. As I reflect on this year's journey, and previous journeys of prior years, I realize that I have a stubborn habit of continuing to bet on or fade the same teams. I simply cannot come to terms with the fact that some teams may actually be better/worse than I initially thought. I suspect many of you out there fall prey to a similar thought process and believe your knowledge supersedes all others. I hereby sympathize with this deficiency and have began to observe the value of riding/fading teams early in the year, when the “markets” are most inefficient. The challenge in this approach getting the timing right and knowing when your gravy train is about to begin (buy low) or expire (sell high), before Vegas adjusts their lines accordingly.
Therefore, I have made it my weekend's work to help you identify some hidden gems and hidden duds in the gambling stock market thus far, and predict how sustainable their earnings are moving forward. I now present to you the early leaders and losers in Against the Spread (ATS) performance (as of 11/29 5:00 PM CST). Teams in bold are what I found to be the most interesting case studies, so you'll find my deeper analysis on them below:
Against the Spread Records
- South Dakota State
- IPFW (Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne)
- West Virginia
- South Carolina
- Kansas State
- Central Michigan
- Wichita State
- Eastern Illinois
- Northern Colorado
*There are many sources online that present ATS rankings, and each vary based on whether their corresponding book offered a line for a specific team/game. For example, Georgetown is listed as 4-0 ATS, but they lost their home opener to Radford (ouch), which some books did offer a line for. The records shown above are from vegasinsider.com
There is a 100% chance that Monmouth will be the sexy Cinderella choice of all bracket filler-outers come March. Led by head man King Rice (yes, you read that correctly), the Hawks have opened the year on a tour around the United States, beginning in Los Angeles (UCLA & USC back-to-back), and stopping most recently in Orlando for the Advocare tourney*. Life on the road won't end any time soon for these kids, given their home opener in New Jersey isn't until December 13th. However, it doesn't appear this group is getting sick of eachother AT ALL. If you've watched even a minute of the tourney thus far, you've seen the Hawks bench performing at an absolute ELITE level, with exceptionally well choreographed celebrations for any 3, dunk or and-1.
However, it has been the performance on the court that is making Monmouth gambling backers a ton of early coin. After stunning UCLA at home to start the year, the Hawks just missed a cover at USC two days later in a scoring extravaganza. They wasted no time bouncing back and after a quick layover in Philly to take down Drexel, the jetsetters took flight for Orlando. They must've felt right at home in Disney World, rattling off three straight covers against top 50 opponents, including two outright wins against the Irish and USC (fulfilling their revenge from two weeks earlier).
The key to this early run has been their maestro, do-everything point guard, junior Justin Robinson, who is playing on a different stratosphere. Robinson handles the ball exceptionally well, both in the halfcourt and open floor, which is a major reason the Hawks find themselves ranked 12th in the country in TO rate. I guess the 77 points he put up in 3 games may have also played a role in their success at Disney (tournament scoring record).
When defenses have over helped on Robinson's penetration, they quickly learned this team is much more than a one man show. OU transfer Je’lon Hornbeak brings a power-6 conference caliber talent to the backcourt and redshirt frosh Micah Seaborn has emerged as an excellent shooting threat. Both Seaborn and Hornbeak have proven to be good slashers and competent shooters, but are equally as versatile on the defensive end (6'4 & 6'5 respectively). The perimeter talent compliments the their senior leader and top scorer from last year, freak athlete Deon Jones. Jones has actually seen his efficiency decline significantly from last year (93 O-Rating this year vs. 109 O-Rating last year), which is surprising with the other weapons surrounding him. It's hard to see his struggles continuing for much longer, given the floor spacing now at his disposal.
With a balanced perimeter attack, and the improvement upside with Jones, the Monmouth Hawks show me no reason that a regression is in their future. They have gotten solid minutes from a pair of 6’10 bigs in Chris Brady & Zac Tillman, so they are immune to a size disparity when playing bigger schools. I would not even think about betting against them in the near-term, even when Vegas sets low spread lines against bigger schools (see upcoming matchup with Georgetown on December 15th). Though the early travel may wear on this group as the non-con schedule winds down, I see no reason they don’t finish well above the 500 mark ATS throughout conference play.
*My colleague Jimmy Roots & I have wasted a significant portion of our lives digging in to what the company of Advocare actually does. We would love some direction from any reader who considers him/herself a proud customer of Advocare. Thanks in advance.
South Dakota State
After starting the year in the 100s in KenPom, South Dakota State has rattled off 5 straight convincing wins leading up to Thanksgiving. Three of these came against formidable opponents (Weber State, Illinois State & TCU) by margins of 17, 16 & 9 points respectively.
So far this year, it seems the oddsmakers may have overvalued the departure of the Jackrabbit's stud big Cody Larson. Last year, the 6'9 Larson controlled the bulk of the rebounding and rim-protection, while casually leading the Jackrabbits in scoring. However, head coach Scott Nagy seemed to have found a timely replacement for Larson in 6’9 freshman Mike Daum. Daum has been an offensive producing machine in the 18-20 minutes a game he sees. While on the floor, he has been featured as the go-to-guy scoring option (31% usage rate is 67th highest in the country), and converted just under 70% of his shots at the rim. His activity on the offensive glass boosts this percentage (top 50 O Reb Rate), enabling him to get easy stick backs off misses. Daum replacing Larson is a big contributor to the Jackrabbits overall shift in rebounding focus, as they counterbalance their bottom 200 defensive rebounding rate with a top 100 offensive rebounding rate. A similar shift has also been evident in the turnover department from last year to this year. The Jackrabbits are throwing it away more often this year, but have also turned over their opponents at a higher clip.
After a bad loss to UMKC earlier today, SDSU’s trajectory may beginning to level out. I think their true destiny lies somewhere near the 80s & 90s of KenPom, which means going forward a 500 record ATS feels like an appropriate projection. I’d play them in the correct spots, but would not continue to blindly ride them in the near term.
Andy Enfield followed up his first season in on the West Coast (2013-2014) with another “sub-par” (I’m too nice) 3-15 Pac-12 record in 2014-2015. According to the adjusted efficiency ranks in KenPom, the Trojans have been tremendously average the last two years (163rd & 152nd respectively). It seemed the "Dunk City" hype had began to wear off toward the end of last year, and the betting public & Vegas alike seemed to disrespect a young Trojan team entering this season. Enfield and his maturing squad surprised the haters, opening this year with 5 impressive victories, including home wins against solid Monmouth & New Mexico, and a neutral site dub over Wichita State. They haven’t soared up the KenPom ranks like the Jackrabbits, but a 20-spot jump in the overall rankings is nothing to sneeze at. They continue to play at Enfield’s rapid up-and-down pace, and are a lock to finish in the top 30 in possessions. However, this exact style slapped them right back in their own face, when they played a more talented and athletic Xavier team on Friday. The 10-point final margin is incredibly misleading, as the Trojans were down as much as 32 in the second half, before blitzing back with an array of absurd shot-making and DGAF-mentality from the X.
The difference this year for the Trojans has simply been shooting. After ranking in the bottom 250 the past two years in Effective FG%, USC has come out scorching, and have drained 43% of their 3s as a team (good for 25th in the nation). The interesting thing is that the perimeter core is the exact same as it was a year ago, with McLaughlin, Reinhardt & Stewart playing the bulk of the backcourt minutes. Reinhardt & Stewart had show signs of being competent long-range shooters in prior years, but it’s been Mclaughlin who must’ve had a transcendent, out-of-body offseason experience. He’s currently shooting a white-hot 54% from deep, literally doubling the 27% clip he posted a year ago. Reinhardt and Stewart are also up from their historical precedents, but nowhere near the leap Mclaughlin has shown.
While the defense has improved each year since Enfield has arrived, the massive leap on the offensive side is the major reason the boys of Pasadena are off to a solid 5-2 start, both straight-up and ATS. While the defensive improvement and solid freshman play (Bennie Boatright especially) feel sustainable, the this shooting display shown in the early going feels like an outlier, given the historical precedent. I think this is an excellent candidate to fade over the next few weeks, especially against good rebounding teams (i.e Xavier). USC has improved on the offensive glass, but still struggles to control the boards on the other end. I’ll be watching closely to see how the shooting percentages fluctuates in the near-term and as the season progresses. If it dips like I expect it should, this team should fall back closer to a 500 ATS records before conference play begins.
The Chippin’ Chippewas are off to a brutal start, and are free-falling down the KenPom ranks because of it. After inching by two creampuffs to start the year, CMU got a dose of reality when they got whacked three straight times in a row by Weber, WKU & Milwaukee.
The most glaring cause of this demise has been the absence of Chris Fowler, who still remains sidelined day-to-day with a leg injury. Even though Vegas oddsmakers clearly factored in the absence of Fowler when capping their early games, they may have still undervalued just how much he means to the potent offense the Chipps had rolling a year ago.
Fowler posted a ridiculous 36% assist rate a year ago, good for 22nd in the nation, while finishing an efficient 55% of his 281 shots inside the arc. With no Fowler, the playmaking duties have been transferred over to Rayshawn Simmons, who has actually done a nice job in the facilitation role.
What has been the most noticeable delta from a year ago is the individual plunge of John Simons shooting. Simons posted a casual 141.8 O-Rating last year, which was good for BEST IN THE WHOLE FREAKIN COUNTRY (47% from 3-land). This year, Simons is 7-27 from the land of plenty (26%), and has only made 1 of his 7 field goals from inside the arc.
I would take a wait-and-see approach with the Chips, and hold off betting on them until Fowler is back and fully healthy (he is supposed to return this week). I suspect their atrocious 300th ranked defense may rebound slightly, when both Fowler & Simmons are both out there forcing a few more turnovers. I also am bullish of Simons being able to find his long-lost jumper, and get CMU back on track to looking like an upper-echleon MAC squad. For now, I would continue to stay-away, and perhaps look to pounce on the Chippewas within the next few weeks.
I couldn’t be less shocked that LSU has underachieved thus far in the early going, or that oddsmakers have given them too much respect. The obvious gravitation toward Ben Simmons continues to draw public love for the Tigers, but the obvious lack of killer instinct from Simmons' teammates has resulted in an 0-4 ATS start for LSU.
There are many issues right now with this squad, but Ben Simmons simply isn’t one. He’s been outstanding in a point-forward role, and has proven to be an elite rebounder & passer, particularly in the open court. He is solely responsible for the turnaround in turnover margin, catapulting the Tigers from 259th in TO rate last year to a top 30 rank this year.
However, the primary issue that has been overlooked by many is the lack of any true size on this team, outside of Simmons. Head coach Johnny Jones is learning to appreciate the duo of bigs he had last year with Jordan Mickey & Jarrell Martin, who were outstanding protecting the rim and controlling the boards. A decline in both these domains has resulted in a corresponding fall in both offensive and defensive efficiency, compared to a year ago. While Simmons has a been a solid shot-blocker in the early going (314th in country in block rate), he can’t replace the 10% block rate Mickey posted a year ago (top 40 in the nation). And it’s simply unfair to ask Simmons to be the sole difference maker on the offensive glass, especially when he spends time floating around the perimeter and high-post in his unique role. It’s amazing to me that he still has put up a 10% O-Reb rate thus far, leading the entire roster in that category.
The rim protection and rebounding issues are a real concern for this team, as I see no candidates on the roster that can emerge to replace Mickey’s & Martin’s production. Johnny Jones gets some hope in December when Arizona transfer Craig Victor becomes eligible. A former top 50 recruit, the 6'7 Victor is an elite athlete that could provide instant relief on the offensive boards, and take some of the burden off of Simmons. The only other real solution could be re-branding Simmons role on both ends, but that would be a detriment to his true skill set offensively, and increase his risk of fouling out on defensively.
Yikes... Did the Shockers overindulge on turkey, stuffing, pie and more turkey? (ok, the Thanksgiving jokes are no longer funny) ... Following a loss to a pesky USC team on Turkey day, the Shock had a food hangover Friday falling to a poor Alabama team, and then had a hangover hangover two days later getting routed by Iowa.
While everyone will point to the absence of Fred van Vleet, I don’t think him on the sidelines fully excuses the 0-4 ATS start (Tulsa, USC, Alabama & Iowa all L’s). They have regressed by about 30 notches in both offensive and defensive efficiency compared to last year, and currently rank 54th in the nation in both departments.
On the defensive end, the departure of interior presence Darius Carter is proving harder to replace than many anticipated. His length and consistency on the defensive glass and low-post defense went incredibly unnoticed in his prior two years for the Shock. Marshall has rotated a few pieces at the 4 and the 5 this year, but none of them have emerged as clear long-term options. While Kelly & Morris showed us 3MW writers promise last year, neither has shown any of the improvements needed to make them key cogs for the roster moving forward. Morris continues to be a great shot-blocker, but still hacks every limb in his path, which limits his time on the floor to just under 10 minutes a game. On the other hand, Kelly has actually gotten the starting nod, but has provided zero rim protection, and has not been effective on the defensive boards either. His offensive upside we saw last year is nowhere to be found this year, as he’s shooting sub 30% from the floor. Big Bush Wamukota is second on the team in rebounding, hauling in 5 a game, but he somehow has fouled more than Morris this year, keeping his time on the pine high as well.
While the incumbent bigs have struggled, the new blood hasn’t been much better either. Our heart goes out to Anton Grady, whose freak injury was a shock to Shock nation (no humorous pun intended). With Grady out, Marshall has asked for increased production from freshman Markis MacDuffie and Eric Hamilton. MacDuffie is only one of the big bunch that has shown promise, but it has been primarily on the offensive end. His 185 pound rail-thin frame has made him a less than stellar rebounder and rim protector. Hamilton has been marginally better on the defensive glass, but even his 18% D-Rebounding rate doesn’t even crack the top 500 nationally.
While ranking 64th and 70th in offensive and defensive rebounding respectively is not abominable by any stretch, it simply isn’t good enough if we're evaluating the Shock as a legitimate top 20 team. And with the injury to leading rebounder Anton Grady, there is now even more uncertainty on who will provide consistent play on the interior.
The return of Freddy Van Vleet should be instrumental to this team on the offensive side, as the Shock are jacking up an uncharacteristic amount of 3’s compared to previous years. No end of shot-clock FVV ball screen action is a massive void, and it's causing more forced deep 3’s late in possessions from the other guys. Baker has had a solid start to the year, but desperately needs Fred back in the lineup to help him facilitate to the right role players at the right times.
Similar to my CMU perspective, take a wait-and-see approach until Freddy returns. Even when FVV comes back, the lack of consistent play from the 4 and the 5 positions may limit this teams ceiling in Ron & Fred’s final stand in Wichita. I don’t forsee the Shock having real Vegas value until the early part of conference play, when they officially fall out of the national spotlight.