Examining the worst point spread teams in NCAA basketball
February 11, 2014 3:10 AM
by Ted Sevransky
Last week I wrote about the four best point spread teams in the country in college hoops this year – Cleveland State, Villanova, Wichita State and Utah. Between the four, they combined to go 7-1 ATS over the past week.
In other words, the markets still haven’t caught up with them. This week, I’m taking the opposite approach; examining the very worst point spread teams. Why are they so bad, will they continue to be money losers as February rolls into March and what statistical profile do these teams have in common that will help us identify them as early as possible next year?
Let’s take a look!
In a version of a column I did last year at this same time in February, the single worst point spread team was Indiana-Purdue Indianapolis, abbreviated IUPUI. This year, IUPUI isn’t the single worst only because they’re tied with South Alabama and LaSalle at the bottom of the ATS standings.
This isn’t supposed to happen. In theory, the betting markets are going to gradually de-value squads that aren’t covering point spreads, making it highly unlikely the same team can be an absolute bottom feeder two years in a row. But at 5-21 SU, 5-15 ATS, the Jaguars once again have failed to live up to market expectations.
IUPUI plays in the Summit League, on the added board in college hoops – exclusive territory for sharps. The type of bettors who wager on schools like IUPUI aren’t likely to be perusing aggregate ATS records very often. The biggest college basketball betting syndicates are driven by computer generated power rating numbers. If their mathematical calculations say to bet on a team in any particular game, they will, plain and simple.
IUPUI has virtually no home court edge, failing to cover a single point spread at home all year. Perhaps they were overvalued after suffering a pair of “tighter than expected” November losses at Missouri and Northwestern along with a SU win over Bradley. Since that win, the Jaguars have covered only two spreads in 12 lined games, despite being underdogs in each contest.
IUPUI has a pretty miserable statistical profile, but no one number really stands out. They’re well below average on offense and defense, rebound poorly and commit more turnovers than assists. It’s a fairly standard profile for a “bad” college basketball team, and bad teams struggle to cover numbers more often than not.
South Alabama: While IUPUI didn’t have any expectations – not even of mediocrity – heading into the season, the Jaguars did. They returned four starters from a team that went 14-6 in Sun Belt Conference action and made the CIT postseason tournament.
There were no warning signs of imminent ATS failure as the season began – the Jaguars went 4-4 ATS through their first eight lined games. But to illustrate where they were, value wise, look no further than their second game of the season, when they were only +6 at Texas.
South Alabama lost that game by seven, blowing a 14 point halftime lead in the process. Just for comparison’s sake, note Texas was -6 at home against 16-7 Kansas State two weeks ago. Kansas State would be in the range of an 18-20 point favorite over South Alabama if these two teams met on a neutral floor now. That shows us rather clearly how dramatically the Jaguars were overvalued early!
Since that 4-4 ATS start, the Jaguars have gone 1-11 both SU and ATS. They’ve been favored five times in Sun Belt play, winning outright only once and are losers of all nine lined games ATS. Lack of experience at the point guard position has clearly been a major detriment to their success. The statistical profile shows more weakness on the offensive end of the court than in any other area.
LaSalle was projected to be just a notch or two behind Atlantic-10 heavyweights VCU and St. Louis coming into the campaign. The Explorers certainly haven’t been horrible: 4-5 in conference play, 12-11 overall. But they’ve been ATS bottom feeders from Day 1, dropping eight of their first nine against the number. They’ve been nearly as bad of late, covering only one spread in their last eight ballgames. The Jaguars are unable to win by big margins or lose by small ones. Like South Alabama, LaSalle’s statistical profile shows more weakness on the offensive end of the court than in any other area.
Central Florida can make a case as the single worst team ATS on a percentage basis – they’ve been a 20 percent proposition; just 3-12 ATS. Because the three teams listed above have lost more net units (each squad 5-15 ATS), I’ve listed UCF as fourth.
The Knights were a 20-win team in Conference USA last year and returned four starters. To illustrate their market value to open the campaign, it’s surely worth noting UCF was favored over Florida State in November. And with an early season SU win as eight point underdogs at Miami-Florida, the markets expected good things from Donnie Jones’ Knights.
That said, the AAC is one heck of a lot better than C-USA, and UCF has been a dramatically overvalued commodity as a result. The Knights have had precious little home court edge, covering only one spread in Orlando all year.
An inability to make free throws – as a team, hitting less than 60 percent for the season – has left them on the wrong end of the point spread standings in conference play. Their lone cover in ten conference games came in a 17 point loss at Louisville when the Knights were catching 19.5.
Pittsburgh is a fascinating team to discuss. Their statistical profile has been too good, ranking among the nation’s elites defensively, particularly against their newfound ACC foes that aren’t used to a Big East style of physical defense. Jamie Dixon’s squad has dominated the glass and hit free throws. And the Panthers offense has been much more efficient than it’s been in recent seasons.
The result of all of those stellar statistics is a market valuation that’s simply been too high. The Panthers spent a good portion of the season ranked among the Top 10 teams in well-respected power ratings from Ken Pom and Jeff Sagarin.
Despite a complete absence of signature wins in non-conference play (Stanford and Cincinnati were their only two games with single digit point spreads and they lost SU to the Bearcats), Pitt entered ACC play valued as a truly elite squad. That market valuation didn’t decline after they won their first four conference games, three by double digit margins, then took Syracuse to the wire in the Carrier Dome.
Pitt has been a hard-luck ATS squad. They’ve failed to cover spreads by a single basket or less four times in conference play and eight times overall since the season began. Just a little bit of overvaluation due to that stellar statistical profile has cost Panthers backers plenty!
Boston College has been pretty awful from the get-go, opening the season 2-11 ATS, but they’ve been money winners for the better part of the last month.
Notre Dame lost leading scorer and assist man Jerian Grant just prior to the start of ACC play and they’ve had no home court edge, covering only two spreads in 14 home games.
Purdue was an ATS bottom feeder last year as well, unable to make headway in the loaded Big 10.
Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at TedSevransky@GamingToday.com