Makinen: College Basketball’s best and worst late-season power conference teams

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There seems to be a consistent level of performance that has developed for certain programs with certain coaches among the power conference teams in college basketball. I discovered this about five years ago and have been riding this gravy train ever since. The programs that have performed best have had consistent coaching staffs that have prepared their teams strategically to be ready to make late-season and post-season tournament runs. If this logic sounds familiar to you, I often write about a similar situation in the NFL, where the best teams tend to rise in December.

I’ve always believed that there is an enhanced home-court advantage at this time of year. That will also prove vital over the next two weeks as we wrap up league play in the major conferences. With so many regular season league titles still yet to be determined and the seeding for all the postseason tournaments not sorted out yet, there is a ton left to play for. And as usual, with so much on the line, the strategy for handicapping the games should change a bit. It is often the case that odds makers will sway their lines slightly to reflect the “must-win” mentality of teams in key spots. Alternatively, they may shade teams that are playing out the string, already looking forward to the off-season.

 

The point spread is the great equalizer for bookmakers, and with so much known about each of the teams by now, those bettors looking to cash tickets in the final two weeks should be aware of some foundational trends and systems that have produced strong results in recent years. Part of that should include late-season performance, especially in cases where coaching situations have remained consistent for teams.

In this piece, I will be breaking down the results of the finals two weeks of the regular season for the power conferences, looking for spots in which we may be able to profit in 2023. As I indicated earlier, in most of the last five years I have published this analysis, the same names have arisen as the teams to back at this time of year—teams like Virginia, Oregon, Kansas, Michigan State, Villanova, etc. As you consider backing these teams over the next couple of weeks, I would take special note of Villanova, who is under new coaching leadership this season, and has taken a huge step back since Jay Wright left. On the other side of the coin, programs like Georgetown, DePaul, and even Alabama have floundered in the late season. Does Nate Oats’ Tide team have what it takes to turn that around this year? It would appear so.

In looking back at how this piece has prepared bettors for success over the last two years, in 2021, I revealed the four teams across the country that had gone 70% or better in the final two weeks of the previous five regular seasons. Those teams were Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Oregon, and Providence. How did those teams fare after I revealed the findings? In a word, phenomenal. They combined to go 15-4 SU and 14-5 ATS, good once again for 73.6%! Last year, the four teams at 70% or better were Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, Oregon, and Providence. All those teams did in the final two regular-season weeks of the 2022 season was go 11-5 ATS, good for 68.8%. At the same time, on the other end, the “bottom teams” continued to flounder. Hopefully, the same continues in 2023, and without knowing at this point, I would imagine the list of teams remains consistent on both ends.

You’ll see that there are some very definitive angles you’ll be inclined to put to use over the next couple of weeks, primarily as they pertain to home-court advantage, pace of play, and recent results between teams in a matchup. Certain teams have thrived and others that have tanked at this time of the year.

For the record, the results have shown cover games dating back to 2018, or the last five seasons. The time period of the final two weeks of this year’s regular season would include games between Monday, February 20th, and Sunday, March 5th, so readers will again have 14 full days to take advantage of the findings. You’ll see that I’ve also included a handy chart detailing the records for all the power conference teams in a variety of last two weeks’ scenarios at the conclusion of the piece.

Before going any further, however, you must consider that in the five years of this study, home-court advantage in the final two regular-season weeks has meant a great deal more than at any other point in the season. In fact, home teams in the power conferences are 475-249 SU and 410-296 ATS for 58.1% in the final two weeks of the regular season since 2018. Nothing else considered, this is a huge profit-making strategy.

If you’re looking to up that ATS percentage a little more, consider the aspect of revenge. Power conference teams looking to avenge an earlier-season loss and playing as home favorites of six points or more in the last two weeks of the regular season have gone 57-5 SU and 41-19 ATS (68.3%). It’s possible we could see this situation in Saturday’s big Indiana-Purdue game as the Boilermakers look to avenge their loss at Indiana on 2/4.

Top Teams

There have been nine power conference teams that have won 70% or more of their games in the final two weeks of the regular season over the last five years. They have combined to go 91-67 against the spread (57.6%) as well.

CONNECTICUT: 7-1 SU and 4-3 ATS

VIRGINIA: 15-3 SU and 10-8 ATS

TENNESSEE: 15-4 SU and 10-8 ATS

NORTH CAROLINA: 14-4 SU and 10-7 ATS

OREGON: 16-5 SU and 15-6 ATS

KANSAS: 14-5 SU and 8-10 ATS

MICHIGAN ST: 16-6 SU and 13-9 ATS

PURDUE: 12-5 SU and 9-8 ATS

ARKANSAS: 14-6 SU and 12-8 ATS

By no coincidence, six of these programs (Arkansas, UConn and UNC excluded) has had the same coach for the duration of the study. In my opinion, this makes backing these teams late in the season a fundamentally sound strategy.

There have been four different teams that have gone 70% or better ATS in the final two weeks of the regular season over the last five years:

GEORGIA TECH: 13-7 SU and 18-2 ATS

OKLAHOMA ST: 14-7 SU and 17-4 ATS

PROVIDENCE: 11-5 SU and 12-4 ATS

OREGON: 16-5 SU and 15-6 ATS

Ironically, this is the same four teams that qualified for this list a year ago at this point, and they combined to go 11-5 ATS in the final two weeks. At that point, I actually questioned how well a bottom-feeding ACC team like Georgia Tech would fare. In form, the Yellow Jackets went 4-1 ATS down the stretch. They are struggling again this year. Can Coach Josh Pastner get them to respond again?

Bottom Teams

There have been eight power conference teams that have won 30% or less of their games in the final two weeks of the regular season over the last five years, and their combined ATS record is an ugly 57-87 (39.6%). Those teams are:

PITTSBURGH: 2-14 SU and 6-10 ATS

IOWA ST: 4-17 SU and 6-13 ATS

GEORGIA: 4-15 SU and 8-11 ATS

MINNESOTA: 4-15 SU and 6-12 ATS

GEORGETOWN: 5-15 SU and 9-11 ATS

VANDERBILT: 5-15 SU and 7-12 ATS

BOSTON COLLEGE: 5-14 SU and 7-9 ATS

LOUISVILLE: 5-12 SU and 8-9 ATS

Interestingly here, for 2023, Pittsburgh and Iowa State find themselves in the thick of conference title races. Can the Panthers and Cyclones shake off past late-season struggles and remain in the hunt?

There have been four teams that have gone 33% or worse ATS in the final two weeks of the regular season over the last five years:

ALABAMA: 7-13 SU and 6-14 ATS

IOWA ST: 4-17 SU and 6-13 ATS

MINNESOTA: 4-15 SU and 6-12 ATS

XAVIER: 9-9 SU and 6-12 ATS

This is an eye-opening list in that three of the teams (Minnesota excluded) are headed to the NCAA tournament in March and will be continuing the fight for better seeding in their remaining regular season games. Will things turn around for them in 2023? Recent history doesn’t suggest it. In fact, the three teams I pointed out in this section a year ago went 4-6 ATS the rest of the way, again proving that fading the worst late-season teams down the stretch is a fruitful strategy.

 

 

Best Home Teams

There have been nine teams that have gone 90% or better outright at home in the final two weeks of the regular season over the last five years, and five teams that have gone undefeated at home in that span. These teams have combined to go a remarkable 66-16 against the spread (80.5%) as hosts! They are:

KANSAS: 10-0 SU and 6-4 ATS

FLORIDA ST: 9-0 SU and 5-2 ATS

CONNECTICUT: 4-0 SU and 2-1 ATS

MICHIGAN ST: 11-0 SU and 10-1 ATS

LSU: 9-0 SU and 8-1 ATS

ARKANSAS: 10-1 SU and 6-5 ATS

OREGON: 10-1 SU and 10-1 ATS

CREIGHTON: 9-1 SU and ATS

GEORGIA TECH: 9-1 SU and 10-0 ATS

Some of the records on the list above are amazing, particularly against the spread. If you’re plotting ahead, note that Michigan State has home games left versus Indiana (2/21) and Ohio State (3/4), while Oregon hosts California and Stanford on 3/2 and 3/4. For Georgia Tech, the only home opportunity left comes against Louisville on Saturday 2/25. Of note there, Louisville has been one of the worst teams overall in late-season play in recent years.

Worst Home Teams

Most of the teams on the “Bottom” list above have enjoyed little to no home court advantage late in the season. Here are the nine power conference teams that have won 33% or fewer of their home games outright in the final two weeks of the regular season over the last five years. Their combined ATS record is a miserable 31-51 (37.8%).

VANDERBILT: 2-8 SU and 3-6 ATS

PITTSBURGH: 2-6 SU and 3-5 ATS

GEORGIA: 3-8 SU and 5-6 ATS

GEORGETOWN: 3-8 SU and 6-5 ATS

IOWA ST: 3-7 SU and 2-7 ATS

OREGON ST: 3-7 SU and 5-5 ATS

ALABAMA: 3-6 SU and 2-7 ATS

MINNESOTA: 3-6 SU and 4-4 ATS

FLORIDA: 3-6 SU and ATS

When you consider the 2023 prospects for the teams on the “worst home” list, there are some high-quality programs. Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Alabama, and Florida have obvious reason for concern down the stretch.

Best Road Teams

Ability to win on the road late in the season is typically a strong trait for the best teams across all sports. Same goes for college basketball. Here are the seven power conference teams to win at least 60% of their road games in the final two weeks of the regular season since 2018:

VIRGINIA: 7-0 SU and 5-2 ATS

CONNECTICUT: 3-1 SU and 2-2 ATS

TENNESSEE: 7-3 SU and 4-5 ATS

WISCONSIN: 6-3 SU and ATS

N CAROLINA: 6-3 SU and 4-4 ATS

FLORIDA: 7-4 SU and 8-3 ATS

OREGON: 6-4 SU and 5-5 ATS

This list is interesting in that three of the teams on it, notably Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Oregon, all have a lot of work to do in the season’s remaining games to try to qualify for an NCAA tournament berth.

Worst Road Teams

There have been 13 teams that have won less than 15% of their road games outright in the final two weeks of the regular season over the last five years. That is an ugly number. The combined ATS record of these teams is arguably worse, 29-75 (27.9%)! Until something changes, there is no reason not to continue fading these teams on the road in 2023.

PITTSBURGH: 0-8 SU and 3-5 ATS

UTAH: 0-3 SU and ATS

ST JOHNS: 0-9 SU and 1-8 ATS

IOWA ST: 1-10 SU and 4-6 ATS

MINNESOTA: 1-9 SU and 2-8 ATS

DEPAUL: 1-9 SU and 2-8 ATS

BOSTON COLLEGE: 1-8 SU and 2-4 ATS

KANSAS ST: 1-8 SU and 3-6 ATS

GEORGIA: 1-7 SU and 3-5 ATS

WAKE FOREST: 1-7 SU and ATS

STANFORD: 1-7 SU and 3-5 ATS

BUTLER: 1-7 SU and 3-5 ATS

CALIFORNIA: 1-6 SU and 2-5 ATS

This list has notable teams like Pittsburgh, Iowa State, and Kansas State on it for 2023, the three of which have combined to go 2-28 outright on the road in the final two weeks of the last five seasons. I’ve shared evidence already of how much home-court advantage means in late-season power conference games. It means even more when facing the teams on this fade list.

Best Revenge Teams

An angle that produces some definitive results is that of revenge, or when a team lost the initial game versus a conference opponent earlier in the season, and how they responded. The following is a list of the teams that performed best in the final two weeks of the regular season since 2018 when playing with revenge motivation:

OREGON: 7-0 SU and ATS

VILLANOVA: 4-0 SU and ATS

N CAROLINA: 3-0 SU and ATS

FLORIDA ST: 2-0 SU and 1-0 ATS

ARKANSAS: 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS

TENNESSEE: 5-1 SU and 3-3 ATS

AUBURN: 4-1 SU and 2-2 ATS

MICHIGAN ST: 4-1 SU and 4-1 ATS

KANSAS: 7-2 SU and 6-2 ATS

Seeing as how Oregon and Kansas have fared very well in revenge, I figured it would be prudent to share each team’s payback opportunities the rest of the way. For the Ducks, they’ll face Stanford at home on March 4th. The Jayhawks’ only chance for revenge is Monday night (2/20) at TCU.

Worst Revenge Teams

Alternatively, revenge hasn’t proven to be a good motivating factor for these teams:

LOUISVILLE: 0-5 SU and 3-2 ATS

ARIZONA: 0-5 SU and ATS

ALABAMA: 0-2 SU and ATS

STANFORD: 1-6 SU and 5-2 ATS

GEORGETOWN: 2-11 SU and 6-7 ATS

MARYLAND: 1-5 SU and ATS

USC: 1-5 SU and ATS

IOWA ST: 2-9 SU and 3-6 ATS

Arizona is a curious name on this list, having lost five straight late-season revenge games. The Wildcats won’t have any revenge opportunities to go against, but other teams on this list who’ve struggled in that situation will. Specifically, Iowa State will host West Virginia on 2/27.

On Totals – OVER and UNDER Teams

There have been eight power conference teams that have gone OVER the total in 65% of their games or more in the final two weeks of the regular season over the last five years:

WASHINGTON ST: 13-5 OVER the total

WEST VIRGINIA: 15-6 OVER the total

UTAH: 11-5 OVER the total

NORTH CAROLINA: 12-6 OVER the total

MINNESOTA: 11-6 OVER the total

SOUTH CAROLINA: 13-7 OVER the total

XAVIER: 11-6 OVER the total

ARKANSAS: 13-7 OVER the total

There have only been four teams that have gone UNDER the total in 65% of their games or more in the final two weeks of the regular season over the last five years:

VIRGINIA TECH: 13-4 UNDER the total

CLEMSON: 15-5 UNDER the total

USC: 12-6 UNDER the total

SETON HALL: 11-6 UNDER the total

The sheer volume of teams going OVER at a high clip as compared to UNDER should lead you to some answers on which way on a total to side when nothing else is considered.

Home Court Advantage by Conference

Interestingly, all six of the power conferences show results indicating that home-court advantage is quite important in the latter part of the season. In fact, over the last five years, all but the SEC conference have shown home teams going 56.1% or better ATS, with the SEC checking in last at exactly 50%. Since I came out with this article for the first time five years ago, I have suggested that, in the absence of any other key information, simply betting the home team in these games would have been a sound strategy. Bettors who heeded that advice in 2018-2022 would have gone 410-296 ATS, good for 58.1% and a profit of $8,440 on $100 wagers! Here are the home records for each conference in order of ATS success:

Big East: 66-27 SU and 63-29 (68.5%)

Big Ten: 92-50 SU and 83-56 (59.7%)

ACC: 93-47 SU and 81-55 (59.6%)

Big 12: 71-32 SU and 56-42 (57.1%)

Pac-12: 71-38 SU and 60-47 (56.1%)

SEC: 82-55 SU and 67-67 (50.0%)

Trends by Line Range

There have been some trends that have developed in the various conferences specific to line range. Take a look.

* There has been a definitive line point in ACC betting at that has been 6 points. ACC home teams in the -6 to 6 range are 48-31 SU and 52-25-2 ATS (67.5%), a sign that home court advantage can be the deciding factor in expectedly tight games. ACC hosts favored by more than 6 points have gone 43-5 SU but 24-22-2 ATS (52.2%) while those playing as underdogs of more than 6 points are an ugly 2-10 SU and 5-7 ATS (41.7%).

* Home favorites of more than 11 points in Big 12 last two weeks’ games are 15-1 SU but just 6-10 ATS (37.5%). The best line range to play Big 12 home favorites has been in the -3 to -10.5 range as they are 36-8 SU and 25-15-4 ATS (62.5%).

* Larger Big 12 home underdogs in late-season games have thrived, going 12-11 SU and 17-5-1 ATS (77.3%) as dogs of 3.5 points or more.

* Big East home teams have been good at pretty much every line range, but the home underdog results have been ridiculous. In fact, since 2018, home dogs in Big East play in the last two weeks of the regular season have gone 19-12 SU and 24-7 ATS (77.4%)!

* Contrary to popular belief, laying a lot of points with hosts in the Big Ten has been a rewarding strategy, as those favored by double-digits are on a 20-3 SU and 16-7 ATS (69.6%) run since 2018!

* There has been a line range sweet spot in late season Pac -2 betting of late, as home favorites of 6-9.5 points have gone 19-3 SU and 16-6 ATS (72.7%), with the hosts in these games yielding just 64 PPG.

* Small SEC home dogs have really struggled in the final two weeks of the regular season, as those at 4.5 points or less are just 4-16 SU and 5-15 ATS (25%) since 2018.

Using this information against the rest of the 2023 regular season schedules for all the power conference teams should continue to reap big rewards.