College Basketball Betting: Key Mid-Season Lineup Changes
College basketball teams change throughout the season. Dynamics within the locker room, roles among the players – it’s often hard to concretely identify why, but the squads that play well to start the year don’t always maintain that upward trajectory, and vice versa. The easiest change to discern is in a team’s rotation and starting lineup. Coaches get a feel for what works in games and certain players improve on different arcs as the season progresses. Let’s take a look at three teams who have recently made a key lineup change and how it projects to impact the squad moving forward.
Oklahoma – Elijah Harkless
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” as the saying goes, and Oklahoma stumbled on a startlingly effective new lineup following Brady Manek’s COVID-related absence. Lon Kruger inserted Cal State Northridge transfer Elijah Harkless into the starting lineup and it’s given the Sooners a hyper-quick, four-guard alignment. And the results on the defensive end have been sterling.
In four games following Kruger’s obligatory change, Oklahoma has yielded the following points per possession rates: 0.97 at Kansas, 0.70 vs. TCU, 0.71 vs. Kansas State, and 0.99 in a rematch with Kansas. Per Hoop Lens, the Sooners are allowing an otherworldly 0.79 PPP with Harkless on the floor this season and that’s helped them go 4-0 against the spread in his four starts.
For his part, Harkless himself has been dynamite, averaging seven rebounds and 2.5 steals per game since his promotion, and Kruger has actually kept him in there despite Manek returning for the last two games. He leads the entire Big 12 in steal rate at 5.8% and although he’s an offensive liability (he’s shooting an abysmal 30.8% from the field), the lift he provides defensively should keep him in the lineup – and help the Sooners continue to rise up the national rankings.
BYU – Trevin Knell
Following a non-competitive loss at Gonzaga that featured an ugly 23-2 start to the game, head coach Mark Pope looked inward and realized his team needed to reshuffle things. Veteran leader Connor Harding has been a steady presence throughout his career but he was invisible in that contest, prompting Pope to try sophomore Trevin Knell in the subsequent road tilt at Saint Mary’s.
That was four games ago and Knell has not yielded his spot. He’s been “knails” from three, going 8-for-19 (42.1%) over that stretch, including an early barrage against Pepperdine on Saturday that set the tone for what was a (mostly) comfortable victory. Knell and Harding are similar players, but the younger Knell is a more willing shooter, which opens the court up for BYU’s towering big men like Matt Haarms and Richard Harward and smaller, quicker guards like Alex Barcello and Brandon Averette.
It may seem to be a small change but it’s had a serious impact as BYU has won four straight – including hard-fought victories at Saint Mary’s and San Francisco in addition to the Pepperdine win. That trio is the Cougars’ three biggest competitors for the #2 spot behind Gonzaga in the WCC standings. Solid non-conference wins against Utah State, St. John’s, and San Diego State give BYU a chance to make the WCC a two-bid league and Knell’s perimeter shooting will be a sneaky-huge piece of that puzzle. Oh, and most importantly – the Cougars are 3-0-1 against the number with Knell starting.
North Carolina – Anthony Harris
This is a change not yet made, so the value to a bettor may still be coming down the line. The dynamic wing is still getting up to speed after his return from a torn ACL last December, meaning he’s been on a pitch count thus far (only 27 minutes so far through three games). However, Harris may well be the best guard on this North Carolina roster, so look for his role to steadily increase in the coming weeks – as much as his body will allow, at least.
Given the struggles of lauded freshman Caleb Love and the inherent limitations of veterans Andrew Platek and Leaky Black, Harris’ tantalizing two-way potential opens new doors for the water-treading Tar Heels. The frontcourt is vintage Roy Williams, dominating the glass on both ends and protecting the rim. But without more playmaking and scoring from the backcourt, UNC could be doomed to an early postseason exit.
Harris may not have played much Division I ball yet, but when he has been on the court, he’s proven to be an offensive spark. His second half explosion against UCLA last season put his potential on full display, tallying 14 points in just 17 minutes and helping lift the Heels to a comfortable victory. He showed it again Saturday, registering 10 points in only 11 minutes against NC State. If he can get up to 20-25 minutes per contest, he can lift the Tar Heels’ offense to a higher level – something much needed, considering it ranks just 10th in the ACC right now, per KenPom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency.
Follow BettorIQ contributor Jim Root @2ndChancePoints.