How Have the Top 5 College Basketball Teams Fared Against the Spread This Season?

The conference tournaments and March Madness were sadly cancelled this year. But we in the ScoreMetrics Lab are committed to providing you with the most up-to-date content possible. This is usually the time of the year when activity starts heating up in the sports betting market for college hoops. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until next year to put our trading strategies into action. However, smart investors should definitely have a strategy in place, and it’s never too early to get to work if you’re not sure yet on how to attack March Madness in 2021.

In this article, the ScoreMetrics Labs will give you an NCAA basketball related thread to explore. Namely, we’ll be taking a look at whether or not the top five ranked teams in the country had been good investments during the short-lived 2020 season.

Who were the top-ranked college basketball teams in the country?

Let’s begin by looking at the Associated Press’ top five ranked teams in college basketball, as of March 1st, 2020:

  1. Kansas (26-3)
  2. Gonzaga (29-2)
  3. Dayton (27-2)
  4. Baylor (25-3)
  5. San Diego State (28-1)

Casual college hoops fans who haven’t been following the action closely this year are probably wondering what’s going on here. Kansas and Gonzaga are certainly names that we’re used to seeing on top, but Dayton, Baylor and San Diego State?

But Baylor has cracked the AP ranking’s top five twice before this season in 2016-2017 and in 2011-2012. San Diego State has also appeared in 2013-2014 and in 2010-2011. For Dayton, this is uncharted territory.

The AP rankings certainly looked different before the season began. Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and Louisville were the top five in that order. Kansas is the only survivor from that list.

Out of the current top group, Baylor was ranked 16th pre-season and Dayton and San Diego State didn’t make the top 25.

Performance against the spread

The college basketball season might have had its surprises, but how have the top teams performed as investments in the sports betting market? Let’s take a look at their cover rates against the spread:

Four out of the five teams have been profitable ATS investments all season long. With -110 odds, which most bookmakers will be giving to you for lines against the spread, a play needs to win at a minimum rate of 52.5% to be profitable. That’s why Gonzaga’s 51.6% cover rate is not enough to meet the mark.

As you can see, the difference between the home/away splits are pretty striking for some of the teams, and the away cover rates for San Diego State, Baylor and Kansas are just crazy!

Overall, these teams have been solid against the spread for the duration of the whole season.

As we mentioned earlier, the predictions for the best teams in the country were looking very different before the start of the season. So, for comparison, let’s take a quick peek at the pre-season top five group’s overall ATS numbers:

Still on the plus-side, but only barely.

Since it’s very hard to draw forward-looking conclusions from recent trends, let’s try to get a little bit of historical context and compare how last season’s top group did. Here’s a look at the ATS records of the top 5 teams from the 2018-2019 season’s last AP rankings (week 19 of the season):

Again, very solid cover percentages all over the board and some huge numbers in away games.

Four out of five of the teams on this list were actually ranked top five before the 2018-2019 season began. Even though the bookmakers predicted that these teams were going to be great, they weren’t able to set realistic lines for them. Interesting!

Kansas was ranked number one before the start of the 2018-2019 season – they ended up with a 45.7% cover rate.


For the last two seasons, the top-5 ranked teams have certainly fared pretty well against the spread. Away games have been especially juicy spots for investors.

This is perhaps surprising, considering that the top-ranked teams are usually the most covered and receive the most action in sportsbooks.

What should we make of this then?

In light of this small sample, it would seem that top-ranked teams in college hoops could be good ATS investments. But the amount of data here is not sufficient enough for us to recommend this as a strategy.

This small study could instead serve as a good start for further research in how top-ranked teams have fared in the past. One could then start building various hypotheses around this data while experimenting with different conditions on top of it.

Have pre-season favorites been good investments against the spread? Is there money to be made in the surprising contenders that appear during a season? These are a couple of questions we would try to find an answer to.

If you need a helping hand with your college hoops strategy, check out our sports guru John Todora’s new book – “Zero Correlation Investing – The Score Metrics Secret”, which is currently on sale for a limited time.

And don’t forget to check out our Dino vs Goliath basketball system, which had a 60.9% ROI for the 2018-2019 college basketball season!

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