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Evaluating Early Season Surprise Teams in College Basketball from a Betting Perspective


With a handful of games in the books for most college basketball teams, it’s fun to take a look at some of the biggest surprises thus far – both good and bad. But from a sports betting perspective, we want to take it a step further and figure out if any of these surprise teams can make us any money going forward. It’s one thing to spot a big change but an entirely other thing to assess whether it’s going to stay that way.

We will start with the teams that have been the most surprising from a positive standpoint.

Utah State (+7.6 points in KenPom’s efficiency margin since the start of the season) – new head coach Craig Smith elevated South Dakota to a new level and it looks like he’s going to do the same at Utah State. They’ve been great defensively allowing 36.2% shooting on two-point field goals, which ranks second in the entire nation. That’s a great sign since two-point field goal percentage is highly predictive going forward. Sam Merrill has been tremendous in the early going and I like what they’ve gotten out of Quinn Taylor and Brock Miller. There are four guys on Utah State with offensive efficiencies higher than 120 and this team can shoot its free throws (2nd in the nation at 81.8%). Utah State has moved up from 162nd overall in KenPom to 92nd and I think they continue to climb based on the metrics I’m seeing.

San Francisco (+6.4 points) – this is year three of coach Kyle Smith’s tenure and the deepest squad he has had yet. They’ve improved from 136th in KenPom to 74th, but I’m not sure they can maintain it. The Dons are allowing just 23.9% from three-point land and that is going regress in a hurry. They also have played the 334th rated schedule in the nation so far. The best team they faced in their six games was Harvard at home and they barely squeaked by in that one 61-57. They play quite a few cream puffs during the rest of the non-conference season, so you might be able to make some money fading San Francisco once they go up against the likes of Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU in the West Coast Conference.

Michigan (+5.8 points) – the Wolverines are Beilein-ing once again. They were barely inside the top 25 for KenPom to start the season and now find themselves at number seven. They are #1 in the nation in defensive efficiency and I think they can maintain it with the personnel they have. Jon Teske has been great at protecting the rim and their perimeter defense is strong as always. People were questioning how the loss of Mortiz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson was going to affect this team, but so far so good. Ignas Brazdeikis and Isaiah Livers have been nice surprises and John Beilein always seems to get more out of his guys than anyone – regardless of how many stars the recruiting agencies attach to them. I do think Michigan is playing a tad over their heads, but I think this team is a serious contender to return to the title game.

Here are some of the most disappointing teams so far in the 2018-19 season.

SMU (-6.6 points) – We knew this was going to be a down year for the Mustangs after losing Shake Milton to the NBA. But they’ve already suffered three bad losses against Southern Miss, Lipscomb and Bradley – two of which were at home.  There is some reason for optimism moving forward though. SMU has allowed its opponents to shoot 40.1% from three and that has to improve. The backcourt also looks like they’re in good hands with Jimmy Whitt and Jahmal McMurray. If they can just get a couple of other guys to step up their game, I think they can right the ship.

Missouri (-6.0 points) – This one isn’t all that surprising. The Tigers lost their best player, Jontay Porter, before the season ever began. He’s a game changer on both ends of the floor. KenPom doesn’t adjust his ratings for injuries, so Missouri began the season 67th and has fallen 21 spots in five games since. I actually think things are going to get worse before they get better for head coach Cuonzo Martin. He’s not the best X’s and O’s coach and he’s got a tough non-conference schedule ahead followed by the much-improved SEC. There should be plenty of good spots to fade Mizzou in the coming weeks and months.

Kentucky (-4.8 points) – Many prognosticators tabbed Kentucky as the best team in the nation coming into the season. Even John Calipari was on the record saying that he was extremely happy with his team over the summer – something that you don’t hear from coach Cal early very often. The Wildcats returned more guys with experience than it has in years and added veteran transfer Reid Travis in the post. So why have they fallen in the early going? The main reason is that they haven’t defended the three-point line very well. Kentucky is yielding 43.4% of the threes that their opponents attempt. That’s a massive number that is surely going to come down substantially. The two-point defense also has struggled which is an ominous sign given all of the athletic defenders down low. Kentucky has too much talent to keep falling in the rankings. This is still a Final Four contender and I think they just need some time for the chemistry to form.

Eric Waz is primed for a big season of college basketball. There’s no sport that provides the sheer volume of betting opportunities that college basketball does on a daily basis. Get all of Waz’s expert picks each and every day at BettorIQ.

Eric Waz

Waz has been a successful professional sports bettor since moving to Las Vegas in 2010. His comprehensive approach to sports betting includes quantifying the impact of factors that can be difficult to evaluate (scheduling, injuries, coaching, etc.). He’s developed several cutting-edge handicapping tools that are now available at BettorIQ. Waz won the 2011 NFL Last Man Standing title ($86,000) at Station Casinos by beating out over 4,200 entrants. He has also notched 5 cashes in 7 years in the prestigious Westgate NFL Supercontest. Get on board with a true professional sports bettor with a proven track record.