College Basketball Betting: Totals and First-Year Head Coaches
We’re a couple weeks into the college basketball season. Even with COVID cancellations, nearly every team has played at least one game with a few playing as many as eight. One of the more popular betting angles early in the season is first-year head coaches. Some provide an immediate boost while others see the writing on the wall and feel comfortable viewing this season as a prime opportunity to rebuild. With totals being my focus as a college basketball bettor, I like to take advantage of changes in pace. Back in October, I gave some initial thoughts on how I felt teams would play in terms of tempo with a new leader in charge. Let’s revisit what I projected and see if there is any signs of potential profits moving forward.
Air Force (Joe Scott) – The Falcons were generally pretty methodical under Dave Pilipovich but as predicted, they’ve slowed even more under Scott. The biggest example of this took place against Lamar who likes to play at a high tempo. Against the Falcons, there were only 62 possessions as AFA controlled throughout en route to a 59-44 victory. Air Force is still lacking talent but they could benefit from the Mountain West as a whole regressing in terms of offensive firepower. Last season, seven teams ranked inside KenPom’s top 100 in offensive efficiency. This season, there are only three. This bodes well for a team that is just trying to stay within striking distance against better competition.
East Tennessee State (Jason Shay) – Steve Forbes may have left as just the right time. After popping for 30 wins and what could have been a multi-win NCAA Tournament run, he bailed for Wake Forest and the Buccaneers promoted Shay. Through four games, and in reading some of Shay’s quotes, this year’s group isn’t going to outscore many opponents. Despite not playing any power conference foes, ETSU is averaging only 58.8 ppg. Four games and four UNDERS including one against fast paced UAB. For now, seems like a dead nuts UNDER team to me.
Evansville (Todd Lickliter) – Similar to Scott, you knew Lickliter was going to try to slow things down, especially with a makeshift roster void of talent. The Aces went nearly a full calendar year without a win but managed to break through with a 68-65 triumph over Eastern Illinois. The Missouri Valley isn’t as grind-it-out as it used to be but by slowing the tempo down, Lickliter will keep his teams in some games. The main problem with playing such a bad AND slow team UNDER is there will be plenty of second half double-digit deficits where burning 25 seconds every possession isn’t an option.
Georgia Southern (Brian Burg) – Non-DI games don’t count for KenPom’s ratings but he posts the results and the pace which can skew a bettor’s opinion. GSU was ultra-fast under Mark Byington who is now at James Madison. And in the first two games under Berg the Eagles ran up and down with comfortable wins over small colleges. They also played up-tempo USC Upstate and Mercer. But take notice of the 61 possessions in their loss to Davidson. GSU is no doubt playing slower it just isn’t as noticeable due to a funky schedule.
Green Bay (Will Ryan) – I’ve played every Green Bay game UNDER so far. Unfortunately, it’s resulted in a 2-2 O/U record but I’m not going to give up on what I think will end up being a profitable profile. The Phoenix played three upper-tier offenses in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Marquette and went to double overtime vs. Eastern Illinois. I think once Horizon plays starts, the games will be more competitive and thus Ryan’s preferred style will start to show. The only issue is much of the roster was recruited to play in Linc Darner’s crazy fast system. It’s tough to ask kids like that to reverse course and play Badger Ball on the fly.
Iona (Rick Pitino) – Haven’t gotten much of a read on who Iona will be this season. They played some high scoring games early on but just played back-to-back grinders against slow-paced and offensively inept Fairfield. If there was ever a sign to approach the Gaels with caution it’s a 70-42 win over the Stags followed by a 67-52 loss against the same team.
James Madison (Mark Byington) – The Dukes’ only two games came against two slow paced teams in Norfolk State and Radford. Byington likes to play fast but I’m not sure there’s much value in part because JMU played pretty quick last season under Louis Rowe.
Loyola Marymount (Stan Johnson) – I’m been firing on the Lions OVER the total and managed to cash two tickets. Johnson isn’t trying to install some super up-tempo system but it’s hard not to play faster than what LMU was doing under Mike Dunlap. A really good sign was LMU struggling offensively against a very sound Santa Barbara squad (58 points) but firing back less than a week later with a 81-76 win over the Gauchos. That doesn’t occur under Dunlap.
Samford (Bucky McMillan) – The Bulldogs are playing at a similar tempo to what they did under Scott Padgett but the overall quality of play appears to be much improved under McMillian who is fresh out of the high school ranks. Samford’s “best” win last season came against no. 257 VMI and after losing to no. 340 Alabama A&M the first game of this season, most were probably thinking “total rebuild.” Well, a week later, the Bulldogs strolled up to Nashville and mollywhopped Belmont by 13 and then took Georgia to the wire in Athens. As a side note, the other five games Belmont has played it won by double-digits.
Southeast Missouri State (Brad Korn) – SEMO is 2-2 SU with both losses coming in overtime and the competition wasn’t that bad with UMKC, Southern Illinois, and Lipscomb twice. Again, that’s a four-game swatch of solid performances bettors rarely witnessed in the dying days of Rick Ray.
UAB (Andy Kennedy) – After the Blazers beat up on a handful of patsies, they took a punch from ETSU who while down some following Steve Forbes’ departure, play hard on the defensive end. UAB got the win albeit a low scoring 65-61 grinder. Outside of that, Kennedy has made good on his promise to play fast but bettors, including myself, haven’t been unable to cash in due to the competition being offensively putrid. And to make matters worse, UAB doesn’t play fast paced Marshall or FIU during the regular season. Still, there’s some OVERS to be had with this bunch moving forward.
Illinois-Chicago (Luke Yaklich) – Under Steve McClain, UIC was a tough nut to crack from a totals perspective. The Flames couldn’t shoot and were the top defensive team in the Horizon but also preferred to play up-tempo. It’s too early to tell with this year’s group under Yaklich — a mixed bag of high and low scoring and pace performances though the 21.8% 3-point defense is probably not sustainable.
UNC Wilmington (Takayo Siddle) – Siddle came over from NC State and promised a fast brand of basketball. We’ve seen glimpses but the market has been wise with their games routinely getting bet OVER. I’m 2-2 O/U thus far — I passed on the ridiculously high 166 vs. UNC Asheville. I have no doubt Siddle will eventually have this team as one of the fastest in the normally plodding CAA but it may take some time.
Wake Forest (Steve Forbes) – Hard to put much stock into wins over Delaware State and Longwood but rest assure, Forbes is going to be worth more than a few underdog covers and UNDERS. The exact record alludes me but there was a stretch at ETSU where Forbes cashed something like seven or eight consecutive UNDERS vs. Power 5 foes. That’s not a fluke. That’s a coach who knows how to gameplan and give his team the best chance to win. The ACC is brutal but if he can somehow erase his players’ memories of you-know-who rolling the ball out every three of four days, Wake will cash some tickets.
Western Michigan (Clayton Bates) – The Broncos are a program in transition and Bates, who tripped, stumbled, and fell into the job, has already shown his cards on wanting to shorten the game with his undermanned squad. WMU is 2-2 O/U with three of those four landing right on the number but keep them on your UNDER radar.
Wyoming (Jeff Linder) – The Cowboys are probably a tad lucky to be 5-1 SU with four of their six games decided in the last minute. But off of an injury-riddled, lame duck head coach season, they deserve a little fortune. Linder is a very sharp coach who lives on shooting the three and also completely taking it away from the competition. He’s always been a tricky coach to handicap from a totals perspective but it wouldn’t shock me to see the Pokes finish near the middle of the pack in the MWC after last year’s disastrous 2-16 finish.