College Basketball Betting Guides

How To Identify College Basketball Mismatches

The 2023-2024 college basketball season has been underway for about a month now. There are over 350 Division I men’s basketball teams. On a full college basketball Saturday, there are over 100 games being played, which means a lot of betting opportunities for the savvy player. You have all sorts of conferences from the high majors to the smallest conferences in the country. You have so many different playing styles and lots of regional rivalries between teams which know each other really well.

There are so many factors to consider, so what should you focus on the most? Let’s try to look at the most important elements involved in looking at a college basketball mismatch.

How To Identify College Basketball Mismatches
How To Identify College Basketball Mismatches

Coaching Is Critical

The focus of college basketball experts might fall a little too much on coaching, but if that is the case, it’s not as though the focus is misplaced. It might simply be somewhat excessive. The need to focus on coaching is still very central and paramount when looking at college basketball mismatches. Some coaches are really good at making the most of their talent and resources. Others are not. Obviously, you need to look at personnel and the quality of the teams on the court, but if the talent is relatively even, a lopsided coaching matchup can create a college basketball mismatch.

Find the coach who does more with less and pit him against the coach who does less with more, and find a relatively equal talent matchup. That’s a formula for finding a winning betting play, assuming teams have equal health and other complications (travel, overtime games, etc.) aren’t involved.

Playing Style (Tempo)

Playing style is a topic which can be sliced and diced in a lot of different ways, but here, we’re going to focus specifically on tempo. Why is it so important to know about the pace with which a team plays? It’s not that complicated. If a team plays at a fast tempo, it will want to play a game with a certain number of possessions. If a team wants to play at a flow tempo, it will want a game with dozens fewer possessions than a fast-tempo team. Consider the implications of that for betting purposes.

If a slow-tempo team gets a 10-point lead, that will feel like a much larger advantage than a 10-point lead for a team which plays at a high tempo. If one team is playing 30-second whole-clock possessions on both offense and defense, that team will use far fewer possessions over the course of a game and will therefore have a hard time coming back if it trails. Conversely, it will have an easier time protecting its lead.

Once you establish how many possessions a team either wants to have in a game or is likely to play in a game, you can then compare those projections against the opponent. Is the opponent relatively similar or substantially different in terms of the number of possessions it wants? Then look at the personnel and see if one team is suited to thrive against the other. Also look at the teams’ statistical profiles. If the fast-tempo team is also a really good shooting team, you should place extra stock in that team’s ability to create more possessions, since those possessions are more likely to end in points scored.

If a team shoots poorly, extra possessions don’t necessarily mean more points. You will need to find something else to recommend that team in a bet. Maybe the bad-shooting, fast-pace team forces a ton of turnovers and gets points that way instead of from shooting.

The larger point to make here is that once you establish the pace at which a team plays or is expected to play, you can then build out the profiles of the teams and get a sense of where they are strong and weak. You can make clearer identifications in terms of whether more possessions will help or hurt a team. You can also see if fewer possessions will help or hurt a team. You can really begin to put a lot of pieces together and formulate a betting plan which has a lot more information and context built into it.

Offensive And Defensive Efficiency

Whether it’s KenPom or another analytics site, you will want to get a sense of how efficient teams are. Do they score on a relatively high percentage of possessions? Do they commit turnovers on a low percentage of their possessions? Do they get to the free throw line a lot? Do they shoot 3-pointers at a reasonable percentage? Free throws represent an easy way for teams to score. Three-point shots represent a way for teams to score additional points and build larger leads. Then flip around all these offensive efficiency considerations and apply them to defense.

Do teams shut down the 3-point shot from their opponents? Do they create turnovers? Do they prevent opponents from getting to the free throw line? Weigh these and other factors when considering how efficient a team is at both ends of the floor. You can compare teams accordingly.

The larger point to make here is that aggregate, cumulative numbers mean less than how consistently teams generate various levels of production. In other words, if a team is regularly scoring 70 points per game, that might seem good, but if those 70 points are coming on a very high number of possessions with a lot of missed 3-point shots and few offensive rebounds, all while a team is giving up 80 points per game and much higher shooting percentages to opponents, that’s not a very good team at all.

Teams win when they have more points per possession and either make fewer mistakes than their opponents or shoot the ball well enough to compensate for the mistakes they make. This is part of the formula in identifying college basketball mismatches.

Four Factors

When dissecting the profiles of teams and getting the granular, specific information which can identify mismatches (if they exist), having the four factors formula in your pocket is very handy. The four factors represent a common and widely used source of basketball analysis and measurement. The four factors are shooting, free throws, rebounding, and turnovers.

These topics seem obvious, but the point of these factors is to examine them at a deeper level and get a fuller set of data points on teams and players.

1. Shooting

Shooting is a very obvious key, the most obvious one in any basketball game. The deeper purpose of looking at shooting is to include 3-point shots, dunks, layups, and other pieces of information. A team’s shooting percentage is a simple statistic from a game, but something called the “effective shooting percentage” includes 3-point shooting and gives extra weight to that part of shooting.

So, if a team is hitting 35 percent of all its shots but is shooting 40 percent of 3-point shots, the effective shooting percentage will be higher than if that same team is hitting 30 percent of 3-pointers. The same overall shooting percentage with a higher or lower rate of 3-point makes will adjust the effective shooting percentage. Making distinctions and discoveries in this realm will often elicit information which can reveal a mismatch between two teams.

2. Turnover

Turnovers refer not just to the amount of turnovers a team commits – and forces – per game, but to the percentage of possessions which end with a turnover. If one team ends 25 percent of its offensive possessions with a turnover and another team ends 15 percent, that’s a significant difference.

It means one team is shooting the ball on 10 percent more (or fewer) possessions, which offers more chances to either make baskets on those shot attempts, or make baskets on offensive rebound chances. A team isn’t guaranteed to score just because a possession leads to a shot attempt, but it at least has a possibility of scoring. A team has zero chance of scoring when a possession ends on a turnover rather than a shot attempt. That is obviously very important when looking at any two teams in any individual game.

3. Free Throws

Free throws are also not just viewed as an aggregate total, but in terms of the percentage of possessions in which a team creates free throws. Remember this: Free throws are the products of fouls on the opposition.

If a team has a very high free throw rate, it not only means that it is creating more free throws and therefore more chances to score at the foul line; it also means that it is drawing a lot of fouls on the opposition, which means that opposing team is more likely to get into foul trouble, which can often swing the outcome of a game, sometimes substantially. This part of the four factors is hugely influential.

4. Rebounding

Finally, rebounding. It’s not about the total number of rebounds. What really matters is rebounding percentage, especially on defense. If a team shoots 80 shots and makes 30 of them, that means it missed 50 shots. If the opposing defense rebounds only 30 of those missed 50 shots, it means it failed to rebound 20 of those 50 missed shots, which went to the offensive team and gave that offensive team 20 more possessions.

A team can have a lot of rebounds in a game yet not have a high rebounding percentage if it keeps giving up shot attempts to the opposition. Rebounding percentage is so much more important than the total number of rebounds. This can really identify mismatches in college basketball games.

Taking Advantage Of College Basketball Mismatches

Whether you’re looking for March Madness value once the brackets are out or examining coreference tournaments, there are always college basketball mismatches to be found. With over 300 teams in Division I, there is bound to be a clear-cut edge in some games. The burden is on the better to do the homework to find them. Stick to the script above and you’ll get in better position to find those imbalances that will work in your favor.

Outlier Team
December 10, 2023
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