Secrets to Success for Three College Basketball ATS Darlings
Let’s take a look at some of college basketball’s top against the spread teams and break down why they’ve been so efficient at covering numbers!
Drake (11-0 ATS, +12.5 cover margin)
Drake has been THE darling of the early college basketball season, racing out to the most wins in the country and best mark against the number. Third-year head coach Darian DeVries has his Bulldogs atop the Missouri Valley standings at 4-0, and even analytic sites are loving what’s brewing in Des Moines. KenPom currently has Drake ranked 60th overall nationally, a near-100 spot jump from its #158 preseason ranking. Bart Torvik pegs Drake at #52, while Haslametrics has the Bulldogs ranked 13th.
Drake’s success is due to a myriad of factors: the Bulldogs are well-coached, they start five upperclassmen and play two more regularly, and they’re currently third in the country in 3-point percentage; but, by far the biggest fuel to Drake’s fire has been the emergence of point guard Roman Penn and Green Bay transfer ShanQuan Hemphill.
Penn was solid his freshman year at Siena, but he took his game to another level when he arrived in Des Moines two years ago. As a redshirt sophomore Penn led the Valley in assist rate and shot 40% from deep. In 2020-21 Penn has appeared to have jumped another level in confidence, posting a similarly ridiculous assist rate while shooting a scorching 45.8% from three and 64.5% from two.
Hemphill took the open scholarship spot left behind by now-Minnesota center Liam Robbins. I talked at length of his impact in my article last week but suffice to say he’s been a wrecking ball, leading the Bulldogs in scoring and ranking fourth in the Valley in steal rate.
It remains to be seen if Drake can keep this torrid pace up, but it’s safe to assume Loyola has a legitimate contender for its run to a Missouri Valley crown.
Toledo (10-2 ATS, +5.9 cover margin)
Drake might be getting more press, but Toledo has quietly been a monster against the number as well this year. The Rockets currently sit at 9-3 overall (4-0 in the MAC) with impressive wins at Marshall and Kent State on their early-season resume. In November, Toledo nearly upended a very good Bradley Braves squad on a neutral floor and missed a road win over Xavier by just three points.
Offense has been Toledo’s bread and butter this season, particularly three-point shooting where it’s ranked 35th nationally at 38% from behind the arc. Tod Kowalczyk likes to space the floor offensively, oftentimes playing five guys at once who all can light it up from distance. Toledo’s roster features five players shooting above 35% from downtown on the year, highlighted by 6’4” senior Spencer Littleson’s immaculate 47.7% clip.
Star guard Marreon Jackson has also continued his dominant college career – the former second team All-MAC member is pouring in a team-best 16.0 PPG while featuring a 2:1 assist-to-turnover rate. Jackson’s Batman has also been helped by an unlikely Robin in freshman wing Ryan Rollins, a do-it-all sharpshooter averaging 14.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 2.3 APG on the year.
Houston Baptist (7-2 ATS, +5.2 cover margin)
A surprise team to find on this list! Yes, Houston Baptist is 2-8 on the year and currently wallowing in the depths of KenPom’s ranking at #345, but that hasn’t stopped bettors making a small fortune backing the Huskies in 2020-21. When most people think of HBU they likely think of the Huskies’ complete lack of interest in playing defense and complete commitment to running, running all the time. In 2019-20, this was certainly the case – HBU was 19-10 on OVERs last year and their dreadfulness resulted in a 12-17 mark ATS. This year, though, the narrative has switched ever so slightly.
Ron Cottrell’s team still plays fast – the Huskies rank 46th in adjusted tempo driven largely by their defense, a unit that still ranks among the worst in the country and one that allows opposing teams to score quickly. But the degree to which HBU has been running offensively – and even how much they’ve sucked defensively – has changed dramatically in 2020-21. HBU ranked second in adjusted tempo in 2019-20, driven in large part to their third-quickest offensive average possession length (APL). That APL has dropped to 110th nationally, and HBU’s overall tempo has dropped from 76.1 at the end of last year to 72.4 in the early-going of this season. Defensively, HBU is allowing 113.7 PPP – which absolutely sucks – BUT in 2019-20 they allowed a ridiculous 122.3 PPP. So, while HBU still sucks, they suck way less this season!
HBU’s improvement defensively and pull-back on the reins offensively has allowed it to remain more competitive this season against superior competition. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt the Huskies are converting 37% of their three-point attempts while opponents are canning just 31.7%.
You can follow Three Man Weave’s Ky McKeon @Ky_3MW.