College Basketball Betting: Good Teams That Fail To Cover Point Spreads
In college basketball, straight up and against the spread records are fairly correlative. For example, teams that are currently in first place of their respective conferences have covered the spread just over 58% of the time. Teams that are currently in last place of their respective conferences have covered the spread just under 43% of the time. Twenty-six of the 32 conference leaders have a winning spread record whereas as only three of the “bottom feeders” have a winning record — all three of which a mere one game over .500. Those stats speak to the mantra “good teams cover numbers, bad teams don’t.” Of course isn’t not always as cut and dry as that because a majority of college basketball doesn’t reside at the “top” or “bottom” but somewhere in between which is why so many teams’ spread records are at or near .500.
There are however some exceptions to the rule that “good teams cover numbers.” In fact, here are a few examples of 20+ win teams that have failed to perform from a betting perspective.
Cincinnati Bearcats (23-4 SU, 12-15 ATS)
The Bearcats have played a ton of games this season where the point spread was in question the last minute of play. In fact, six of their last seven have been within three points of the closing number. I don’t view the Bearcats as necessarily overrated from the point spread perspective. In fact, they are actually the epitome of being properly rated. I do think Cincinnati’s sub-par ATS record in comparison to its SU record has a bit to do with a down tick in defense. Cronin’s defenses have ranked in the top 20 in efficiency seven out of the last eight years. This year’s squad is still strong but 28th. But dive a little further and you’ll notice that the Bearcats are a modest fourth in AAC play at 0.97 ppp vs. last year’s stellar 0.86 ppp. Take Cincinnati’s last four games (0-4 ATS): Win by 4 laying -6, win by 5 laying -7.5, win by 10 laying -12, lose by 7 catching +4.5. Last year’s squad probably finds a way to cover at least two of those games.
Montana Grizzlies (20-7 SU, 10-15 ATS)
In non-conference play, the Grizzlies went a dismal 2-7 ATS, opened Big Sky play 3-0 ATS, and have since gone 5-8 ATS. One thing that has likely contributed to UM’s lackluster spread record is the health of bruiser Jamar Akoh who missed time earlier this season and hasn’t played in the team’s last five games. The other factor is that Montana is the class of the Big Sky with a 29-5 record over the last two seasons. And like Cincinnati, Montana’s defense — particularly with Akoh out — has taken a step back. The Grizz finished 56th in defensive efficiency last season but have plummeted to 172nd. Good enough to win games in a extremely down year in the Big Sky but not good enough to cash tickets at a high clip.
Northern Kentucky (21-8 SU, 10-17 ATS)
The Norse are very similar to that of Montana; arguably the best team in their conference but a decline in defense has made it tricky to consistently cover big numbers. Last season, NKU led the Horizon in defensive efficiency at 0.92 ppp. This year, they rank third at 1.02 ppp. That’s a massive drop-off. Last time out, NKU closed as -15.5 home chalk and lost to last place Cleveland State 83-77.
It was very interesting that the common theme among these three point spread underachievers is that record-wise they look very similar to last year but their decline in defensive efficiency has really had an impact on their ATS record. Combined, the three teams won 77% of their games last season and covered the point spread a healthy 57% of the time. This year, they’ve ironically won at that same 77% clip but have covered the spread less than 41% of the time. The market appears to have been slow to pick up on their inability to guard at last year’s level. Perhaps we should change the mantra to “good defenses win games, great defenses cover numbers!”