- Matt Cox
With conference season right around the corner, it's time to check back in and take another glance at the college basketball betting markets - I mean, who needs bitcoin when you could just autobet Portland State and Southern Utah every game until your bookie shuts you down for good...
In this edition, we'll provide a quick overview of the best and worst teams against the number so far this year, but stay tuned for our "Buy or Sell" edition in which we highlight some "Buy" and "Sell" candidates (*more creative name pending*). We'll hit on squads that are currently undervalued ("Buys") and overvalued ("Sell") based on a multitude of factors - as any broker or hedge fund manager on Wall Street will tell you, timing is everything in the investing world and that rings ever so true with wagering on college hoops.
2017 Best & Worst ATS Records
Big ups to the Big Sky staking claim to a pair of undefeated ATS schools so far this season - Portland State and Southern Utah - who are a combined 17-0 against the number (and 15-7 straight-up). The Vikings and Thunderbirds are both shattering preseason expectations after being slotted by many to finish in the bottom half of the league this season. While the advanced metrics indicate Southern Utah may still be doomed to wind up near the cellar (see kenpom.com's overall Big Sky rankings), Porty State has soared to 158th overall, just 10 spots behind the odds on favorite to seize the Big Sky regular season crown, Idaho. After dominating the JUCO ranks to the tune of a 181-29 overall record during two 3-year stints at Southern Idaho and Indian Hills - along with pit stops as an assistant at Utah and Arizona State - 1st year head coach Barret Peery is pushing all the right buttons in his first season in Portland and was the toast of the town with the Vikings impressive three game showing at the PK80.
Arizona State's sizzling hot start is well documented, led by their dynamic backcourt duo in Tra Holder and Shannon Evans, but the newcomer crop of Remy Martin, De'Quon Lake and Romello White have catapulted the Sun Devils into the national spotlight with complementary scoring contributions on offense and diligent dirty work on defense. On our most recent podcast episode, we established that Bobby Hurley and the boys feel more like a top-20 team than a sure fire top-10 or top-5 squad (currently ranked No. 3 in the AP poll), as their defense - albeit, light years better than last season - just simply doesn't stack up with the likes of Villanova, Michigan State and some of the other elite teams across the nation. But let's be crystal clear: We in NO WAY advise you to fade the Sun Devils anytime soon, especially with the sneaky solid addition of Mickey Mitchell to the core rotation, who hauled in 13 boards in just 23 minutes in ASU's home victory against a desperate (and winless ATS) Vanderbilt team. Degenerate college hoop fans may recall his ridiculous high school hoop mixtapes, which inevitably culminated in some projecting him as the second coming of "White Chocolate".
Ok, so the jury is still out on that comparison prognosis, but the Mick will be a valuable off-the-bench reinforcement when Pac-12 play begins to heat up.
In our first ATS deep dive this season, we highlighted Temple and Tulane as temporary pet teams poised to continue raking in coin for their betting backers. While the Owls and the Green Wave look more like penny stocks with the benefit of hindsight, we have shifted our attention to two other mid-major money-makers who have been far more consistent over the first month of the year: Jacksonville State and South Dakota.
A handful of you may remember Jax State from their party crashing performance in the OVC tournament last March, which propelled them to an automatic berth and a date with 'Sticky' Rick Pitino and Louisville in the opening round of the Big Dance. Under Ray Harper's slow and methodical offensive pace, the Gamecocks lulled the Cardinals to sleep en route to a 15-point loss that took me - and millions of others who also hammered the 'Cocks - all the way to Covertown, USA. Despite losing debatably their two best shooters this summer, Jax State has knocked down 41% of their long range attempts this year, good for 28th best in the country. Malcolm Drumwright's blistering hot start (24/56 from downtown) has been a pleasant surprise, but don't peg Jax State as a team that lives and dies with the long ball - the Gamecocks prefer to play inside-out from the post with a stout forward combo in 7-footer Norbertas Giga and Christian Cunningham. The Gamecocks have proven themselves as worthy adversaries to traditional mid-major darlings Belmont and Murray State in the chase for the OVC title this year.
Don't sleep on 'SoDak' either as the Coyotes sit just two spots ahead of Jax State in kenpom.com's rankings at 94th overall. The Yotes get one last crack at a marquee resume booster tomorrow when they travel Los Angeles to do battle with the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion. Steve Alford better have his kids ready to play - SoDak will feel right at home playing in a track meet style of game and they boast one of the better starting 5s in the mid-major landscape, headlined by the magnificent Matt Mooney.
It's hard to feel THAT bad for Bryce Drew and Vandy who currently have a top-10 class in the 2018 recruiting cycle in the hopper, which, according to 247sports.com, could jump into the top-3 if 5-star phenom Romeo Langford opts to take his talents to the Music City. But as far as the 'here and now' goes, the 'Dores have hit the panic button on the 2017-18 campaign with a 3-7 eyesore of a record overall and a big fat goose egg in the ATS win column. Confession: I predicted this group to flirt with a top-5 finish in a loaded SEC this season, which is probably why I'm stubbornly convinced that Vandy is an excellent buy low investment right now (teaser for my 'Buy or Sell' segment being released later this week). Why? Well, here are the two glaringly obvious reasons...
- Severe Shooting Slump: Only 16 teams in college basketball have shot the rock worst from behind the arc than Vandy has this year (29% as a team from 3-point range). Matthew Fisher-Davis appears to have let the mental meltdown against Northwestern in the NCAA tournament last season affect his jumper as he's converted just 27% of his triples, by far the lowest rate of his career. Riley LaChance has been the 'Dores best long range sniper, but 38% is still somewhat pedestrian by his standards and guys like Joe Toye (5/27), Saben Lee (4/22) and Jeff Roberson (14/38) can't seem to get anything to fall either.
- Losing Luke: While the offense has taken a dive, the defense has been dragged down with it - no Luke Kornet in the middle has exposed a lackluster frontcourt, forcing Drew to showcase a super small lineup with 6'6 wing Jeff Roberson at the 5. Djery Baptise and Ejike Obinna - both of whom were top-200 recruits coming out of high school - tallied a grand total of 0 minutes against Arizona State, further illustrating Drew's frustration with his bigs at the moment.
While the Friars recent skid doesn't hold a candle to Vanderbilt's shortcomings, Providence is beginning to show some cracks in their armor over the last few weeks. The injury bug bit Ed Cooley's bunch bad when the calendar turned to December - Emmitt Holt is done for the year and Kyron Cartwright, Alpha Diallo and Maliek White have each been banged up as well - but the depth and talent on this roster should make the Friars immune to some of their recent head scratching results. Providence is winless in their last 5 contests against the spread, which included close calls at home to Rider, Stony Brook and crosstown rival Brown, as well as an outright loss at UMASS. To gauge the public perception of this Providence team, we took a quick and dirty poll on the Twitter tweets - I quickly learned that I may not be alone in my bearishness on the Providence gambling stock:
A date with Houston on Wednesday is the last chance the Friars have to tack on a meaningful result in the non-conference before the brutal Big East slate kicks into high gear next week.
Ole Miss makes a rather shocking appearance in this mid-December ATS update having dropped 6 of their last 8 contests - including three overtime losses at home - bringing the Rebels to 5-5 overall. Finding separation amongst the 14 SEC squads is seemingly impossible at this juncture, but Mississippi and LSU have both been plagued by defensive deficiencies that may expose them when conference play begins.
The Rebels D looks like the Steel Curtain relative to the Swiss Cheese defensive units that Samford and UNC Wilmington throw out on a nightly basis - a major reason why both stocks are tumbling in the betting markets. Samford was picked by many pundits to win the SoCon, but a blind resume test may lead you to think they're a member of the MEAC or SWAC. The Bulldogs are 3-8 at the moment, but those three wins are against a D2 team and arguably the two worst teams in college basketball - unsurprisingly, both of whom hail from the mighty SWAC (Alabama A&M and Mississippi Valley State). Wilmington has a more defensible case for their underachievements this season as they adjust to life without Kevin Keatts under their new head honcho, C.B McGrath, a longtime protege of Roy Williams at UNC.