College Basketball Betting: Early Season Power Rating Movers
With the first couple of weeks of college basketball action in the books, let’s take a look at a few teams and the impact their start has had on their KenPom ranking. KenPom is such a huge part of the making of the market when it comes to college basketball, that it’s important to take note of teams rising and falling. By locating some bigger swings, bettors can begin to drill down and determine whether playing or fading will provide value going forward.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (Preseason KenPom Ranking: 96/Current KenPom Ranking: 134)
This is the single biggest drop in KenPom ranking by any major conference team. It would be difficult to conjure up a more disappointing start to the season for new head coach Fred Hoiberg as he made his return to the NCAA ranks. A 66-47 drubbing in Lincoln, at the hands of UC Riverside. An afterthought in the Big West, UC Riverside came into the season with a preseason KenPom ranking of 285. While the team has climbed to 264 since then, it hardly bodes well for the Cornhuskers that UC Riverside have since lost to Sacramento State and Pacific.
To be sure, expectations were not high in Lincoln for this season. Tim Miles was finished after seven seasons at the helm, and while the hire of former Iowa State Head Coach Fred Hoiberg was certainly flashy, Nebraska was still expected to be the worst team in the Big Ten. Only two players leftover from last season’s 19-win team, and the roster is simply not built to compete in a major conference. Yet, the opening night defeat managed to reinvent rock bottom for Nebraska. The team shot under 30 percent from the floor, and went 6-for-26 from three-point range. Perhaps most concerning, the Cornhuskers were out-rebounded 49-29.
One thing that Nebraska has going for it is that Hoiberg seems plenty calm. After the defeat, he said, ”I thought early on we had a good burst out of the locker room,” Per CBS Sports, Hoiberg said. ”Our transition was excellent, defensively we were doing a good job of disrupting them and turning them over and that’s what got us out in transition.”Obviously, that changed and momentum shifted. Once the ball started going in the hoop for them, the defense wasn’t as good. We pressed to try to get all the momentum back at once.” Hoiberg’s group followed up the disaster against UC Riverside with another embarrassing home loss, this time in double overtime to Southern Utah. Nebraska led by as many as fourteen in the second half, and managed to blow the game, thanks once again to terrible three-point shooting (5-for-26) and getting beaten on the boards (53-40). Southern Utah opened the season with a KenPom ranking of 206 and have risen to 197. However, they have looked a little better than anticipated, competing well in losses to BYU and UCLA. Still, Hoiberg spoke to the positives, as he looks to build the program up. Per CBS Sports, Hoiberg said, ‘If we continue to take steps, the results will take care of themselves,” he said. ”That’s the biggest thing for our group right now, to continue to go out there and battle. I’m proud of the way they went out there and battled and fought. (SUU) is a good team. They’re long, they’re athletic and look like a lot of Big Ten teams will. Now that we’ve seen that length, hopefully we’ll be better next time we see it.”
This bad start, in concert with the low preseason expectations, may however provide some value opportunities for bettors willing to hang around. In Nebraska’s last outing, the team looked vaguely like a Fred Hoiberg team. Nebraska played fast, putting up 71 field goal attempts in a 90-73 victory. And, while the team still struggled from distance and from the charity stripe. On the season, Nebraska is shooting only 23.1% from three and a brutal 57.7 percent from the line. These numbers cannot hold. While the team may well be a below-average shooting team, some positive improvement is inevitable. The win could provide a boost. Per the Journal Star, Hoiberg has already noticed better energy from his guys, “Sometimes getting that first one is something you build on from a confidence standpoint,” Hoiberg said. “Guys have had great energy in the gym. I’ve seen a smile on their faces for the first time in a while, and that’s when our guys go out and play their best.”
The fact is, this program needs time. Hoiberg is just so different from Tim Miles. Last season, the Cornhuskers averaged 69 possessions per game, ranking 272nd in the NCAA. This season, Hoiberg is getting 79.6 possessions per game out of his charges, 20th in the nation. Even though the roster is not full of holdovers, Hoiberg’s system will need a chance to be implemented and acted out in real game situations. There are signs that it will take, though. Per Synergy, Nebraska ranks in the 99th percentile among all college basketball teams in transition offense, scoring 1.431 PPP. It’s a small sample size of only 58 possessions, but the seeds are there. Add to that the fact that Hoiberg is taking his team to the beautiful Cayman Islands for the Cayman Islands Classic starting November 25 with a game against Washington State. This should provide a real bonding opportunity for the staff and the players. At the end of the day, this Nebraska team was projected to be a top-100 club, and Hoiberg will probably find a way to get them climbing back in that direction soon.
California Golden Bears (KenPom Preseason Ranking: 179/KenPom Current Ranking: 151)
As little as was expected of Nebraska this season, California was a complete write-off among major conference programs. The Golden Bears came into the season sandwiched between Florida Atlantic and Coastal Carolina in KenPom’s preseason rankings. Then, the team came out of the gates way stronger than expected. Cal went 3-0 both SU and ATS to start the season, including a 16-point win as a two-point dog against Pepperdine, and a 20-point victory as a five-point favorite against California Baptist. Did the market wildly underestimate this Pac-12 team? Probably not all that much.
While Cal executed effectively, the truth is they shot the lights out. In those three wins, the Golden Bears shot 92-for-162 from the field (56.8%) and 24-for-51 (47%) from distance. This was never going to be the case for long, and sure enough, Cal followed up the great start by winning by four at home to Prairie View, despite being listed as 14.5-point favorites. A 17-for-44 shooting performance is pretty brutal, but the team was due. The market appeared to still have inflated Cal a touch, as the team was obliterated by 35 points at Madison Square Garden as a 19-point underdog against Duke. Next up is a game against Texas, who have a quality road win at Purdue, and have also played California Baptist and Prairie View, beating them by 13 and 14 points respectively. The Longhorns are playing better defense in both transition and in the half-court so far this season. Meanwhile, it doesn’t quite feel like California has come all the way back down to earth, getting only 11 points for Friday night’s encounter, which also takes place at MSG. Coming off a disappointing 82-66 defeat at the hands of Georgetown, we will likely see a motivated and focused Texas team that will desperately want to avoid a neutral site loss to a California team that will likely start to work its way back down the rankings.