Any Parallels Between College Stats and ATS Record?
by Trevor Whenham - 01/19/2008
Last week I looked at how some different offensive and defensive statistics in the NBA related to against the spread success for teams. The results were very interesting, and not always what was expected. For example, scoring a lot of points or winning the rebounding battle might seem like sure ways to success at the NBA betting window, but the truth is that the teams that score a lot of points and rebound well aren't necessarily the profitable ones at all. On the other hand, teams that play stingy defense appear to be a great bet, and teams with high field goal percentages are often worth a look, too.
The results of the study were valuable in the NBA, so it only makes sense that they would be valuable for college basketball betting as well. The study is more difficult and less accurate because of the huge number of teams involved and the smaller sample size of games played, but we should still be able to draw out some interesting conclusions based on a broad study of stats. The method will be slightly different, but hopefully the results are as thought provoking.
Field goal percentage - This is a reasonable way to find a team to back. It makes sense that a team that shoots consistently should be able to cover the spread consistently, and the numbers back that - the top 10 shooting teams in the country have a combined ATS record of 70-55-1, a nicely profitable mark. There is an important caution that has to go with that, though - five of those top 10 teams, including the second, third, and fourth best shooting teams, would have cost you money. While the top five are profitable overall, that only because Kansas, among the best ATS teams in the country at 11-4, also happens to be the best shooting team. Field goal percentage, then, can't be viewed as a reliable indicator of betting success in college basketball.
Tempo - It is meaningless to compare the points scored by college teams since teams employ so many different offensive and defensive styles. It's only slightly less meaningless to compare tempo, but at least this gives you a straightforward comparison of their pace of play. It turns out that playing fast doesn't lead to betting success. The top 10 teams for tempo combined for a profitable ATS record of 50-38, but the entire profit can be attributed to North Carolina at 12-3. Beyond them, only three teams have shown a profit, and each only marginally. Slowing down the pace of play is even worse. The bottom 10 teams in tempo have a combined ATS record of 37-38-1, and just three teams are profitable. Not particularly relevant but interesting among that group is Presbyterian. The independent team has a 2-20 record, but are profitable ATS at 2-1.
Rebounding margin - This statistic was not particularly impressive in the NBA in terms of ATS success, and that trend continues in college. The top 10 teams are barely profitable at 72-59-6 ATS, and again all of that profit can be credited to North Carolina at 12-3. Without them the teams are 60-56-6 ATS - costly to bet on. Rebounding margin is not a reliable indicator of betting success. The only positive thing to draw from these stats is that it is better to be a good rebounding team than it is to be a bad one - the bottom 10 teams are 20-31 ATS.
Wins - On the most basic level it would make at least a little bit of sense that a team that wins a lot would stand a better chance of being profitable than one that doesn't. To test that out, there are 16 teams with 15 or more wins at this point in the season. Twelve of those 16 have been profitable, and they are an impressive 132-81-8 overall. Interestingly, the ration gets much worse when teams are unbeatable at home. There are 18 teams that are undefeated at home. Only 10 of those teams are profitable overall, and three of those have produced less than a unit of profit. Clearly the public isn't fooled by scheduling a patsy home schedule.
Three-point percentage - Because the three-pointer plays such a key role in college basketball you might assume that it would also be a key indicator of betting success. You would assume wrong. The top 10 three-point shooting teams combine for a profitable 57-47 ATS record. A now familiar story pops up again here, though - the entire profit can be attributed to one team, - in this case New Mexico at 12-4-1 ATS.
Field goal percentage - This is the first time that I have been truly surprised by the results I have found. This category was promising but ultimately unreliable in the NBA. In college ball it is a disaster. The top 10 teams in this category are a combined 49-61 ATS. They just burn money. Even more surprising, only one, VCU at 8-5 ATS, returns a profit of more than one unit. Paying a lot of attention to this category when making your picks seems like a quick road to the poor house.
Defensive efficiency - In the NBA the best indicator of betting success was defensive points allowed. That's hard to compare in college because the range of offensive styles make a raw point average meaningless. We can, however, compare by defensive efficiency ratings to get what should be approximately a comparable statistic. The results are as promising as any we have seen here, but still not overwhelming. The top 10 teams have an ATS record of 74-62-4, and six of the 10 teams are profitable. Of the ones that aren't profitable, only one, Stanford at 7-10 ATS, is more than one win game below the .500 mark. In other words, if a team plays disciplined, dependable defense there is a pretty good chance they, at the very least, won't waste your money.