College Basketball Betting: This Season’s Top Tempo Changers
Getting ahead of the market on tempo trends is vital to finding edges in the totals market. That applies on both a macro and a micro level; individual teams can offer big opportunities, especially when specific squads migrate outside of coach/program norms. Let’s take a look at five teams playing at vastly different tempos compared to last year – and the likelihood that it continues:
Perhaps the team whose tempo has confounded us most at Three Man Weave, the Mustangs have played significantly faster than any previous Tim Jankovich squad. In his first four years at SMU, Jankovich ranked 333rd, 336th, 310th, and 331st in KenPom’s adjusted tempo standings whereas this season the Pony Express has shot up to 75th. No game has had fewer than 68 possessions and SMU and Cincinnati just played to 77 possessions over the weekend.
This shift could have several influences. Perhaps most notably, point guard Kendric Davis is a blur, and Jankovich may finally be giving him the freedom to attack more in transition. Plus, Jankovich is likely feeling his seat getting warm, so adjusting his approach in a semi-desperate attempt to salvage his job could be leading to a quicker pace of play. On the other hand, though, Oklahoma State transfer Yor Anei became eligible in mid-December and is one of the country’s best shot-blockers, and slowing the pace to construct a defensive system more suited to his strengths could make some sense.
Following the loss of AJ Green to season-ending hip surgery, the Purple Panthers seemed like an obvious candidate to slam the breaks. They had lost the heartbeat of the offense, the guy who had the ball in his hands constantly, and minimizing the possession count seemed like the logical response without Green’s talents. Plus, UNI could then emphasize its half court defense, always the strength of the team under Ben Jacobson.
To the contrary, though, Jacobson seems to have embraced the need to get easy points in transition without his get-out-of-jail-free card in Green. Save for a sloth-like rematch with Evansville on January 3, every UNI game sans Green has had 69+ possessions, giving weapons like Trae Berhow, Bowen Born, and Noah Carter more opportunities in transition. Still, through 14 seasons in charge in Cedar Falls, Jacobson has never finished inside the top 212 nationally in tempo, so the lofty current ranking of 48th may yet drop somewhat.
At long last, Mike White has dropped the cinder block on the gas pedal, allowing his roster that bursts with athleticism and depth to play more freely. I could spend an entire article lamenting how frustrating it was to see him shackle his last two squads with unnecessary restrictor plates, but instead, let’s focus on how it’s benefited the current squad. This year’s Gators rank 49th nationally in effective field goal percentage, and per Synergy, they’re scoring 1.07 points per possession in transition, putting them in the 66th percentile nationally.
Will it continue, though? Tough to say. White does have plenty of precedence for playing swiftly, having ranked in the top 75 of pace all four years at Louisiana Tech. However, the loss of preseason SEC Player of the Year Keyontae Johnson robs Florida of one of its most lethal assets on the break, and a two-game losing streak over the past week could prompt White to micro-manage things.
It feels strange to discuss a team that ranks 62nd nationally in tempo as one that has slammed brakes, but comparatively speaking, Houston Baptist is crawling this year. Last year’s edition ranked 2nd nationally, and coupled with a truly abysmal defense that finished 352nd in the country, the Huskies became a factory for eye-popping box scores – usually for their opponents.
This year, the defense is less bad to go with the more reasonable pace, and HBU has found success against the number as a result (8-2 versus the closing line so far). Coach Ron Cottrell has been at HBU forever (well, since 1990), and his Division I HBU teams have all played at top 100 tempos. It seems as this one, though, will be on the “slower” end of that spectrum, perhaps offering some value on both the side and the UNDER.
The Lobos are one of the most difficult teams in the country to get a handle on. Their practice schedule has been impacted multiple times by COVID-19, and they turned over a huge portion of the roster from last season. Local restrictions in Nevada have forced them to Lubbock, Texas, for an extended period of time, playing “home” games on the campus of Lubbock Christian University (per beat writer Geoff Grammer, that exile may be ending). All of this has contributed to head coach Paul Weir slowing the tempo drastically, slowing from a top 40 mark the last three years to New Mexico’s current standing of 225th.
The dearth of talent is the strongest indicator for the slowdown to continue. New Mexico has lost all of its first six Mountain West games by double-digits (four by 24+), and grinding the pace to a halt could be the Lobos best shot to compete. On the other hand, perhaps Weir will feel more comfortable gunning the engines as his players get more familiar with each other – both outcomes are definitely in play.