Because there are so many NCAA basketball teams playing in so many different leagues college basketball can be really intimidating for a lot of bettors. To combat that problem a lot of public bettors rely heavily on public and media perception of teams – basing their opinions on what they read and hear from the media. Because of that, one of the real gems for handicappers to find is a team that the media likes that is clearly overrated. If the media likes them then the public will like them, so if they aren’t as good as they appear to be then there will likely be very nice value in betting against them.
Finding overrated teams isn’t always easy, but using statistics is the fastest and most accurate way to uncover them. For serious college basketball handicappers who want to make money here are five statistical clues that a team isn’t as good as people seem to think that they are:
Efficiency – Efficiency is simply the measure of how good teams are at scoring points and stopping others from scoring. On the offensive side it is a number that represents the points scored each time the offense has the ball, and on the defensive side it represents the number of points given up per possessions. Efficiency will often be listed as points per 100 possessions, but it’s easier to deal with them as points per possession. What you really want to pay attention to to get a good sense of the team quickly is the efficiency margin. Simply put, the efficiency margin is the difference between the offensive efficiency and the defensive efficiency. If the efficiency margin is negative then the team is probably going to struggle to come through when their games get tougher. If a team is being talked about as a truly elite team – one headed to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond – then their efficiency margin should be better than +0.10. It’s not that a team can’t be great with an efficiency margin less than that, just that it is far more likely that they are elite if their efficiency margin is above that threshold than if it isn’t.
Strength of schedule – Every year there are many college basketball teams that the media falls in love with because they have jumped out to a fast start to the season. An impressive record can be very deceiving, though – especially if they haven’t beaten anyone impressive. The best indicator of how impressive a team’s record is is the strength of schedule. If a team with a big record has a strength of schedule that is way down in the bottom third of all teams then they have probably gotten fat on weak opponents, and almost certainly aren’t as good as they appear. If their strength of schedule is in the upper third, though, then there is a good chance that they are a solid team.
Pythagorean record – Pythagorean record is a concept most frequently applied to baseball, but it can be powerful in college basketball as well. It’s a mathematical formula that uses points scored and points allowed to calculate the number of wins that a team should have. Obviously something like that can’t truly be expected to be perfectly accurate. It is very useful as a general indicator, though. If the Pythagorean expectation for a team differs significantly from their actual record then it’s a solid indicator that something is up. If that Pythagorean record is far below the actual record then the team is quite possibly overachieving.
Turnover margin – In football we know that the team that wins the turnover battle is very likely to win the game. The link isn’t quite as strong in college basketball, but the concept is the same – if you are losing the turnover battle then you are consistently giving your opponents free chances to score. The biggest takeaway here is that if a team has a negative takeaway margin overall then that is going to catch up with them. As expert college pick masters know a heavily hyped team with turnover issues probably isn’t worth the hype.
Effective field goal percentage – NCAA teams can have all the opportunities in the world, but if they can’t put the ball into the hoop then none of it matters. Just looking at straight shooting percentages can be a problem, though – teams that shoot a lot of threes are going to look like a worse shooting team than one that doesn’t, but if that team is good at shooting them then they could actually score more points per shot. Effective field goal percentage compensates for where the ball is shot from – behind or inside the arc. Once you have that you can easily compare teams because you are comparing apples to apples – points per shot, not the number of shots that go in the basket. If a team has an effective field goal percentage that is well down the list then it is hard to believe that they will keep winning games all season. Also, a team that maintains a reasonably consistent eFG% throughout all of their games is more trustworthy than one that can shoot the lights out in some games and then can’t hit a thing in others. Finally, a team that started out with a strong eFG% but has seen that percentage decline as the season has progressed should have alarm bells sounding all around it – if they are getting weaker as the season goes on then it’s going to be harder and harder for them to win. As a college basketball handicapper, you want to use these five important points.