Against the Spread Trends & Analysis (Thanksgiving Checkpoint)

- Matt Cox

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As we sit smack dab in the middle of Feast Week - which equates to week 3 of the 2018 college basketball season - it's time for the first edition of ATS Trends & Analysis. On a bi-monthly basis (hopefully), we will break down the latest trends in the college hoops betting market and highlight teams that you may want to keep an eye on as the year progresses. For those of you degenerates who wasted no time immersing yourselves into the treacherous world of college basketball wagering from the opening tip in early November, we hope you've gotten off to a hot start and already built a nice bankroll buffer to carry you well into December. On the other side of the coin, for those of you already in a hole, we encourage you to [responsibly] hop back on that saddle and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you been fooled by Kentucky's never ending arsenal of alien-esque athletes?
  • Have you removed your crimson-colored sunglasses and come to terms with the fact that Indiana just may not be very good right now? Yes, I'm talking to you Hoosier faithful
  • Have you found your personal mid-major darling(s) that Vegas refuses to respect? Tulane and Temple are our early ATS pet teams - identifying your own is critical to early season success 

Not to worry - we understand that wagering on 18-22 year old kids trying to put an orange ball through a circular hoop can make you question your chosen "career" path as a lifelong degenerate. 3MW is here to guide you through the murky waters of collegiate hoop betting all year long so you can build your own stack of high society in preparation for the crown jewel of degeneracy in a few months time - March Madness. 

ATS Winners & Losers

My colleagues and I firmly believe that tailing or fading specific schools during the nonconference portion of the year is an excellent way to capitalize on market inefficiencies. At this fetal stage of the season, Vegas is still highly reliant on offseason model projections and last year's efficiency metrics to price lines for each matchup. This makes a team-by-team speculation strategy a viable approach to generating some nice return in the wagering ring - that is, assuming your reads are on point.

So while individual game stylistic matchups should remain king in terms of how you go about making against-the-spread picks on a day-to-day basis (e.g. how does Team A matchup against Team B in a vacuum), there's no better time to ride a certain squad that you love or fade a team you hate to exploit the lack of information built into the betting markets.

With most schools having already played at least 3 games this year with lines attached to them, let's look at who has been the "darlings and duds" of the 2017-18 campaign:

*Note: Other teams at 3-0 include Florida State, Towson, Evansville, Portland State, Cal Poly, UC Davis & Southern Utah


With Duke firing on all cylinders and slowly asserting themselves as the undisputed top team in the nation, Xavier, Virginia, Oregon, and Purdue have also been sharp to start the year and look like they could be playing in the 2nd weekend of the NCAA tournament when March rolls around (yes, I'm aware it's still November). Unless a juicy matchup opportunity in a potential dead spot emerges over the next month, I'd steer clear of fading any one of these aforementioned squads until further notice. The common denominator across Duke, Xavier, Virginia, Oregon and Purdue is that they possess a deadly combination of young talent and proven experience, which is weaved together by a competent head coach (Coach K, Chris Mack, Tony Bennett, Dana Altman and Matt Painter).

South Carolina has been a pleasant surprise after losing their Mr. Everything in Sindarius Thornwell this summer, along with fellow guards / wings PJ Dozier and Duane Notice. While their NCAA tournament resume is far less appealing than their ATS resume at the moment, the Gamecocks are still playing stifling defense and are suffocating inferior opponents with relative ease. However, the offensive upside moving forward will be highly leveraged on the consistent play of three newcomers - Wesley Myers (Maine), Kory Holden (Delaware) and Frank Booker (FAU) - who must inject some scoring and shooting production to the core perimeter rotation. Illinois State exposed the Gamecocks' shaky guard play and spotty shooting with a stingy zone that prioritizes shoring up the defensive glass. So while this could be a telling sign to fade USC against teams that zone, their next four matchups are against predominantly man-to-man teams so fading them strictly on a matchup basis will be tough in the near-term.

Nevada and Northern Kentucky (fear the Norse!) finished a combined 44-20 against the spread last year and have yet to skip a beat this season. Eric Musselman has rebranded the Wolfpack as the "Transfer U" of the West Coast and the new pieces have quickly meshed together around returning juniors Jordan Caroline and Lindsey Drew to keep the momentum rolling. With their supreme roster versatility, Mussleman can mix and match his rotations to adjust to different opposing defenses and personnel, making them in many ways agnostic to poor matchups - in other words, very few teams resemble a 'Kryptonite' for Nevada. Unless they run into a team with a true low-post scorer (refer to Jock Landale's 33-point explosion last year) - and it doesn't look like they do for the next month - continue to ride the Wolfpack over the next couple of weeks.

The Norse, on the other hand, are the perfect example of the type of team you'd expect to get off to a hot start - NKU is currently ranked 13th in's 'Minutes Continuity' statistic, which is reflective of the fact that the Norse lost only one key piece (Cole Murrary) from a 24-win team a year ago (you might recall that same team hanging tough with Big Blue nation in the opening round of the NCAA tournament). I'd circle the Norse this Saturday in their first true road test of the year against Memphis as a good spot to bet on them - Tubby Smith typically prefers to pack it in and wall off the paint and the Norse can burn you with a barrage of 3s while still being able to compete inside with Carson Williams anchoring the paint.


Speaking of the slightly more popular in-state foe Kentucky, the narrative of the Wildcats' struggles has been beaten well into the ground by the national media and pundits, particularly after their poor showing against Kansas in the Champions Classic. Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo appear to be the only polished offensive weapons at Calipari's disposal and the well-documented concerns about the Cats lack of outside shooting is officially coming to fruition (apologies to Quade Green who's actually knocked down a cool 42% of his 17 3s). UK has attempted the 5th fewest long range shots in the country and with Jemarl Baker expected to be out for at least another two months, the Wildcats will have to continue terrorizing opponents on the defensive end and pounding the offensive glass. 

Another powerhouse program in the midst of a much more severe meltdown is the Indiana Hoosiers, who kickstarted the Archie Miller era with a 21-point shellacking at the hands of their in-state rival Indiana State. The guard play continues to be spotty with the perpetual turnover bug still plaguing a young and inconsistent backcourt that is sorely missing the ball control and floor leadership of Yogi Ferrell. The bigs are actually the strength of this team with De'Ron Davis - despite his free throw shooting incompetence - emerging into a bonafide go-to-guy on the low block next to the versatile Juwan Morgan at the 4. But this season isn't about wins and losses for Archie - it's about finding the right mix of guys to blend into his more methodical, defensive-minded system, which probably looks completely foreign to Indiana fans ingrained into Tom Crean's free-flowing (but sometimes loose) offensive approach.

Not even ex-IU standout Steve Alford is immune to the November lulls as his UCLA Bruin bunch were almost stunned in their home opener against Central Arkansas (5 bucks says you can't name their mascot). That was right after eeking by a depleted Georgia Tech team in China (this trip sounded like fun!) and right before the high-octane Creighton offense hung 100 points on them in Omaha. The Jays and Bruins' statistical archetypes are in many ways mirror images of each other on paper - both love to run and gun with dynamic guards and inverted forwards to space the floor at all times, which makes them exceptionally difficult to guard for 40 minutes. The difference is that the public had a more inflated perception of the Bruins preseason ranking and that same public likely overvalued the losses of Justin Patton and Mo Watson for Creighton (who now sits at 3-1 against the number). I see both teams destined for a 7-10 seed come tournament time, which likely means that the betting markets aren't too far away from correcting themselves. In other words, I would caution you from blindly tailing Creighton or blindly fading UCLA over the next few weeks, given the lines on their matchups will be more accurately representative of each team's true value.