College Basketball Betting: Handicapping the Second of Back-to-Backs
This peculiar 2020-21 college basketball season has brought many schedule oddities, but perhaps most paramount among these has been the huge volume of back-to-back rematches in conference play. Figuring out how to handicap these immediate rematches has been a key challenge – maybe the key challenge – of finding an edge this season, and several teams have proven especially effective at controlling the second leg of these aggregate battles. Let’s take a look at four of them – you’ll notice a few consistent traits among each squad.
Liberty (6-1 ATS with no rest, +6.0 cover margin per game)
Year in and year out under Ritchie McKay, the Flames have maintained a consistent identity as a hyper-physical defensive squad that dominates the paint. In each of the last four seasons, Liberty has ranked in the top 100 in both defensive rebound percentage and 2-point percentage defense, taking away easy buckets for opponents. The Flames suffocate you with a brutal half court style; no second leg contest has gone over 64 possessions this year (the UNDER has also hit in five of their seven back-to-backs).
This squad has also maintained last year’s offensive potency despite immense roster turnover, ranking in the top 10 in 2-point offense for the third straight year. Sophomore Blake Preston has emerged as a ruthless destroyer inside, taking up the mantle left empty by Scottie James’ graduation, and McKay has assembled a lethal collection of perimeter shooters to flank him. Atlantic Sun opponents simply do not have the depth to go toe-to-toe with the Flames on consecutive days.
Cal State Bakersfield (6-1, +5.4)
The Roadrunner roster has multiple features you’d want in a prime back-to-back candidate, most notably depth (the ‘Runners are 27th nationally in bench minutes, per KenPom.com) and copious veterans (1st in experience). That deep, veteran roster is able to make smart adjustments and wear down its competition, especially on the offensive glass.
The Roadrunners rank third nationally in offensive rebound rate, and they’ve gobbled up an average of 14.7 second opportunities in their seven back-to-backs. The incessant wave of bodies that Bakersfield hurls at foes takes its toll, and with two such schedule spots still remaining, there may yet be some value in this angle.
Louisiana Tech (5-1, +6.1)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before already: Louisiana Tech is a terrific defensive squad that owns the paint, excelling in both defensive rebounding and 2-point defense. Wide-boy freshman Kenneth Lofton throws his 275 pounds around on the block, and that effect really seems to show up in second legs, almost like a running back that repeatedly barrels into the line before finally owning the game in the fourth quarter as defenses lose their will to take such a beating.
The Bulldogs could be vulnerable to some 3-point shooting regression, though, as opponents have connected on just 28.6% of their triples in C-USA play. Some of that is likely due to the way Louisiana Tech defends and gets into the legs of its foes, but just be aware of it in the Bulldogs’ final two back-to-backs this year, at Middle Tennessee State and home to Rice.
Grand Canyon (3-0, +12.2)
Due to COVID issues both within their own program and with their opponents, the Antelopes have only gotten to play six league games thus far (three back-to-backs). They’re 6-0 straight up in WAC play, and they’re also 3-0 ATS in the second legs of these showdowns.
This makes a lot of sense. Grand Canyon is huge and physical, and the towering frontcourt of Alessandro Lever and Asbjorn Midtgaard have broken the wills of opponents over the course of 80 minutes. In those three games combined, GCU has won the rebounding battle 115 to 84, underscoring that physical dominance.
With three back-to-back still on the slate, GCU should be a prime candidate to back in the second leg, particularly against smaller foes in Cal Baptist and Seattle over the next two weekends.
And one more quick note…
While we’re on the topic, here are a few teams that you should look to fade in second legs, as they’ve struggled for a variety of reasons (lack of depth, coaching, etc.): Robert Morris (0-6 ATS, -5.8 cover margin per game), UC San Diego (0-5, -8.8), Stetson (0-5, -7.2), Illinois State (1-6, -5.3), and High Point (1-6, -9.5). Those teams lack a lot of the traits mentioned above, especially depth and physicality in the paint.
Follow BettorIQ contributor Jim Root @2ndChancePoints.