College Basketball Handicapping: Correlation Between Offensive Stats and ATS Success
by Trevor Whenham - 2/5/2010
Let's avoid the lengthy preamble this time around. What I wanted to do this time is look at the relationship between several different common offensive statistics and against-the-spread performance in college basketball. We're going to look at the top five teams in five different statistical categories to see how they stack up ATS. Nothing may come of it, but then again something interesting may be learned.
Points per game - Virginia Military Institute leads the way with almost 90 points per game, but they have yet to face a meaningful opponent or a posted line, so they aren't much help for us. Villanova is second in the country in points, and a very nice 15-5 ATS. Texas, in third, has a nice record, but a very lousy 8-10 ATS mark. Kansas is next, and despite their strong record they are also ATS disappointments at 9-9-1. Syracuse, 14-5 ATS, and Providence, 8-10 ATS, round out the top five of scoring offenses in major conferences. Though betting on the top five scoring teams would have been profitable so far this year, only two teams are profitable, and it's pretty clear that scoring success and ATS performance aren't closely and reliably linked.
Field goal percentage - Syracuse is the top shooting team in the country, which isn't that surprising given we already know how well they can score. We also know that they are at a very nice 14-5 ATS. Murray State is, surprisingly, second best. That has helped them achieve a nice 21-3 record, but a less impressive though still profitable 10-7-2 ATS. Georgetown, third, is only slightly better than break even at 9-8 ATS. Ohio State is fourth on this list, but just 11-12 ATS. The top five is finished off with another surprising entrant - Denver. They are a pathetic 5-12 ATS. Like points per game, there isn't a strong surface relationship between elite field goal shooting and elite ATS performance. In fact, betting on these top five teams would essentially just be a break-even proposition.
Three point percentage - We know that field goal shooting isn't a good indicator, but how about effective shooting from beyond the arc? Leading the way on this front is Marquette. They sink a stunning 42.4 percent of their three-point opportunities. That's a big part of the reason they have a decent 14-8 record, and it has also helped lift them to a nice 10-6 ATS mark. Even without Patrick Mills Saint Mary's can still shoot the lights out - the second best in the country. They are a surprising 20-3 on the year, and an equally impressive 15-6 ATS. BYU, another surprisingly potent team, sits third in three point efficiency, and is profitable at 12-9 ATS. Utah State is fourth on the list, and a nicely profitable 12-7 ATS. The fifth team is Cornell - the best ATS team in the country at 13-3 ATS. For those counting along at home, that's five out of five nicely profitable teams.
It would take more investigation before you relied on it, but this is a pretty good indicator that three-point shooting percentage and ATS performance are linked. A possible reason for this could be that unlike the two stats we looked at before this one, three-point percentage, is an indicator of greater depth of effectiveness. You can generally assume a few things about a team that shoots threes effectively - they have the discipline to wait for good shots, they control the tempo of games in order to find those shots, and they have the ability to put a lot of points on the board in a short time when they are in a groove. Those are all things that would help teams cover a spread.
Rebounds - Radford has secured the most rebounds per game. Because they only play in the Big South, though, they have faced just one line, and they didn't cover. Texas has had just one fewer rebound. We know from earlier that they are just 8-10 ATS. The third best rebounding in the country has helped Wake Forest to a 15-5 record, but hasn't helped bettors nearly as much - they are just 9-8 ATS. The fourth best rebounders are North Carolina, and we know that they have been a total ATS disaster at 7-13. Kentucky rounds out the top five. They were the last team in the country to lose their first game, but high expectations have meant high spreads, and they have only covered half of them - they are 10-10 ATS. No team in the top five for rebounds is better than break even. Rebounds aren't much help to us here.
Free throw percentage - Shaq can't shoot free throws, and he has still won a lot of games and covered a lot of spreads. How about in college? BYU is the most efficient free throw shooting team in the country, and as we saw earlier they are a solid 12-9 ATS. Larry Bird would be proud that Indiana State is second best, and perhaps a little proud that the team is a profitable bet - if only slightly. They are 11-9 ATS. Saint Mary's is as good at shooting free throws as three pointers, and they are 15-6 ATS. Utah State is also good at both threes and fouls, and we know that they are 12-7 ATS. Finally, Duke is a nice ATS proposition this year at 14-7 ATS. Like three-point percentage, all five teams on this list are profitable ATS over the season, so this is another potentially strong indicator of ATS performance - though not quite as strong as three pointers by the looks of it.
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