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College Basketball Betting: How to Handicap First-Year Teams


This expansion era of college hoops paved the way for four program promotions this summer: Dixie State, Tarleton State, UC San Diego, and Bellarmine. Welcome to the big show, boys.

Last year, we witnessed Merrimack rip the NEC to shreds en route to a regular season conference title in its inaugural DI season. The element of surprise, amplified by Joe Gallo’s tricky zone, buoyed the smaller Warriors to a banner season. Can a similar effect fuel one of this year’s newcomers to mid-major fame?

Dixie State Trailblazers

ATS Performance: 3-2 ATS Record, -0.8 Average Cover Margin

Analysis: After racing out to a hot start (3-0 ATS in their first three contests), the Trailblazers have shown warts in their last two tilts. Granted, there’s no shame in surrendering 112 points to Gonzaga but following that up with another dud performance against a New Mexico team in complete disarray was discouraging, to say the least. However, context is king. Savvy veteran Dason Youngblood, a full-time starter on the perimeter, got hurt early against Gonzaga and did not play against the Lobos on Wednesday. Head coach Jon Judkins was left with a 7-man rotation to work with, which took a toll in the second half of both games. Keep in mind that the Trailblazers are already down a big-time bruiser in Mikey Frazier, a highly regarded transfer from Boise State, who’s been MIA since the third game of the season. All things considered, Dixie has the chops to sneak up on some teams in the WAC, but that movement will be stunted if Youngblood and Frazier are out for an extended period of time.

Tarleton State Texans

ATS Performance: 2-2 ATS Record, +3.8 Average Cover Margin

Analysis: Don’t let the pedestrian ATS record fool you. Billy Clyde and his pesky Texans have been a thorn in the side to everyone they’ve played this season. Just ask Bryce Drew and Grand Canyon, who were shaking in their boots in both of the two back-to-back games last week. GCU was fortunate to cover one of those games, riding a late charge to extend the margin to a deceiving 11 points. Through four Division I games, the Texans’ identity is crystal clear: feisty and ferocious defending. While early, Tarleton boasts the WAC’s third-best defensive unit, turning opponents over at a rate of 21.2% per possession (best in the conference). However, like Dixie State, the Texans are currently ailing as well, leaning on a thin seven-man rotation with Russian wing Konstantin Dotsenko out of the mix. Until the roster is revived to full strength, the Texans will have to seduce teams into rock fights, which could bode well for UNDERs. In fact, two of their last three games went UNDER the total, the lone exception of which was due to an uncharacteristic light out shooting display in the second half against GCU.

UC San Diego Tritons

ATS Performance: 0-1 ATS Record, -7.0 Average Cover Margin

Analysis: The Tritons are the great unknown among the DI newbies in 2021. Eric Olen’s squad has laced ‘em up only once this season, cracking down the stretch against Big West overlord UC Irvine – not exactly an ideal matchup for an undersized and undermanned team. Despite two key cogs opting out before the season, the Tritons battled admirably with the Anteaters for 30 minutes. We got a glimpse at a few new faces, tasked with carrying forth the Tritons stellar tradition – this team was riding a 22-game win streak last year before COVID cancelled the season. True believers of basketball’s analytics movement, the Tritons love the long ball more than anyone in college basketball. They jacked 30 triples against UC Irvine in their first DI game, and attempted over half their field goals a year ago from the land of plenty. Anecdotally, the sky high 3-point rate should play well for OVERS, especially against teams who will look to capitalize on long rebound misses in the form of quick transition buckets going the other way. And when the Tritons get hot, no line will be high enough to keep the Tritons under.

Bellarmine Knights

ATS Performance: 3-2-1 ATS Record, -2.1 Average Cover Margin

Analysis: The Knights are the epitome of a “buy low” squad After covering three of their first four games, the Knights caught a surging Lipscomb team at the wrong time last weekend. The shorter Knights had no answer for Ahsan Asadullah in the second game of the back-to-back series. Now, they must dig themselves out of an 0-2 hole in the Atlantic Sun standings. Offensively, there isn’t a tougher team to prepare for than Bellarmine. Scott Davenport’s perpetual motion offense, infused with well-timed backcuts and inverted forwards who can step away from the paint, will be a nightmare for unsuspecting conference foes. Merrimack’s unorthodox zone was a cheat code in the NEC last year and Davenport’s intricate offense could present a similar type of wrinkle this season in the A-Sun. The lack of size and athleticism will take its toll on the defensive end, but opponent 3-point shooting regression should eventually take hold – currently, teams are hitting 44% from long distance against Bellarmine, a rate that is sure to trickle down as the season matures.

You can follow Three Man Weave’s Matty Cox @matty_cox