Upcoming Match-ups

A graph showing NCAA Tournament qualification by KenPom ranking and RPI A graph showing NCAA Tournament qualification by KenPom ranking and RPI. Image by Taollan82 (Wikimedia) CC License.

  • The KenPom and Sagarin rankings are both computer-based rankings systems which provide predictions for college basketball games. They are both highly influential amongst bettors, and the actual spreads used by sportsbooks tend to factor in their predictions.
  • Often KenPom and Sagarin agree on what is likely to happen in a game, but they also diverge significantly on a semi-regular basis.
  • When there is a discrepancy and the actual spread lies somewhere in between, bettors can find value in siding with the more accurate model. But which is it?

Let’s get one important piece of information out of the way right from the tip: there is no magic formula for winning all your college basketball wagers. If you bet with any regularity, you are going to lose some of the time. But you can increase your chances of winning by utilizing the advanced predictions systems available online, if you know how to do so properly.

What Are the KenPom and Sagarin Rankings?

KenPom and Sagarin are both math-based rankings systems, which provide a hierarchy for all 351 Division I basketball teams and predict the margin-of-victory for every game.

KenPom

The KenPom rankings are highly influential when it comes to betting on college basketball. In the words of creator Ken Pomeroy, “[t]he purpose of this system is to show how strong a team would be if it played tonight, independent of injuries or emotional factors.” Without going too far down the rabbit hole, his ranking system incorporates statistics like shooting percentage, margin of victory, and strength of schedule, ultimately calculating offensive, defensive, and overall “efficiency” numbers for all teams in Division I. Higher-ranked teams are predicted to beat lower-ranked teams on a neutral court. But the predictive part of the site — which you can effectively access here without a membership — also factors in home-court advantage, so KenPom will frequently predict that a lower-ranked team will win, depending on where the game is played.

In its younger days, KenPom created a windfall for basketball bettors. It was more accurate than the sportsbooks at predicting how a game would turn out and certain bettors caught on. Of course, it wasn’t long before the sportsbooks realized this and started using KenPom, themselves, when setting their odds. These days, it’s uncommon to see a point spread that deviates from the KenPom predictions by more than a point or two, unless there’s a significant injury or suspension at play. More on that later.

Sagarin

The Sagarin rankings aim to do the same thing as the KenPom rankings, but use a different formula, one that doesn’t (appear to) factor in stats like shooting percentage (though the algorithm is proprietary and, thus, not entirely transparent).

The bottom of the Sagarin-rankings page (linked to above) lists the Division I basketball games for that day along with three different spreads, titled COMBO, ELO, and BLUE, which are based on three slightly different calculations and defined by creator Jeff Sagarin thus:

“ELO uses only who the winner and loser was of each game and of course the game location.
So the difference in ELO between winning by 1 and losing by 1 is very large.

BLUE cares only about the score and game location and so in BLUE, the difference between
winning by 1 and losing by 1 is simply only 2 points which would be the same difference
as winning by 20 as compared to winning by 18 … very small.”

COMBO is the combination of ELO and Blue. All of the Sagarin predictions used herein are COMBO predictions.

An Air Force and UNLV player reach for the ball. An Air Force and UNLV player reach for the ball.

How Can Bettors Use the KenPom & Sagarin Rankings?

Often, the KenPom and Sagarin predictions are closely aligned, but on busy college basketball days, bettors can almost always find one or two games that have significantly different predicted outcomes. When there is a significant difference between the KenPom spread and the Sagarin spread, sportsbooks tend to side with KenPom, but often shade their lines a little in the other direction. For instance, when Miami hosted Florida State on Jan. 7, 2018, KenPom had a predicted spread of Miami -3.5, Sagarin had a COMBO spread of Miami -0.08, and the line closed at Miami -2.5. (The game ended in an 80-74 Miami win/cover.)

We saw something similar for the Arizona State at Utah game on the same day. KenPom had ASU -2; Sagarin had ASU -5.4; and the spread wound up being ASU -3.0. (The game ended in an 80-77 push.)

In a relatively small (but growing) sample size, our experience is that the KenPom rankings are more accurate in these situations. We are currently tracking (mostly) power-conference games from the 2018 season in which Sagarin and KenPom differed on the predicted outcome. The full results/data are provided at the very bottom of this page. In brief, the results were as follows:

  • KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin on 29 of 46 games.
  • When the actual point spread fell somewhere in between the KenPom and Sagarin predictions, KenPom was more accurate on 10 of 15 games.
  • However, when the actual point spread was either higher or lower than both the KenPom and Sagarin predictions, the actual spread was more accurate than both metrics on 16 of 29 games.

 

We are continuing to track games as the season progresses and will be updating the numbers in red, accordingly.

As mentioned, we are still looking at a small sample size, yet the advantage is significant and we can draw a couple tentative conclusions:

  1. KenPom is more accurate than Sagarin in terms of predicting margin-of-victory.
  2. Barring injury/suspension considerations, when KenPom and Sagarin differ on predicted margin-of-victory, and the actual point spread lies somewhere in the middle, it is wiser to side with KenPom.
  3. When the actual point spread is higher or lower than both the Sagarin and KenPom predictions, our research indicates that the actual point spread tends to be closer to the final outcome. (This is likely because the odds-makers account for additional factors, like key absences, head-to-head history, and recent outcomes.)

 

What to Do in the Wake of Key Injuries?

One limitation of KenPom and Sagarin is that they do not, generally, account for injuries. When a star player goes down, the calculations for his team are not amended. KenPom and Sagarin both assume that the team taking the floor tomorrow will be the same as the team that took the floor last week and last month.

That’s not all bad news for bettors. While sportsbooks are very good at staying up-to-date with injury news and factoring it into their odds, they miss things from time to time, and they will not (immediately) have empirical evidence which they can use to adjust the spread. They, like bettors, will basically have to guess at how the loss of a star player will impact his team, and they are not always great at this.

In the first game of the 2017-18 SEC conference schedule, then-no. 5 Texas A&M was travelling to Alabama to face a 9-3 Crimson Tide team. The Aggies had been hit hard by the injury bug and had recently played some closer-than-expected games. Finally starting to get a little healthier, they were small 1.5-point road favorites heading into Alabama. That spread matched up with the line at KenPom, which predicted a 72-70 Texas A&M win.

At least 16 or so hours before the game, word came down that leading scorer DJ Hogg would not suit up, along with third-leading scorer Admon Gilder. It’s unclear if the spread was set before news of the Hogg injury, but it is clear that you could still get Alabama as a 1.5-point home underdog for a while after the news came out.

Eventually, the line was adjusted to a pick’em game which, to most onlookers, still undervalued Alabama and overvalued the decimated Aggies. (I personally put a $50 wager on the Tide and laughed all the way to a 79-57 Alabama win.)

Another notable example comes from the 2017-18 Notre Dame team. When the Irish lost leading scorer Bonzie Colson late in 2017, sportsbooks initially shifted the spreads way too far towards Notre Dame’s opponents, predicting the apocalypse for the Irish. In their first game without Colson (against NC State), the KenPom prediction of ND -12 was slashed in half, yet Notre Dame romped to a 30-point win.

When they went to Syracuse next time out, the KenPom line of ND -1 turned into a 6.5-point spread in favor of the Orange. Again, the Irish covered with ease, winning 51-49 straight-up. Sportsbooks had no idea what the team was going to look like without its star and wound up overreacting. There was good reason to think the Irish would be significantly worse, since Colson was not only their leading scorer (by a wide margin), but also their leading rebounder and only real interior presence. However, there was also reason to think the Irish would be ok, because Mike Bray teams are always ok.

Bettors won’t get to capitalize on situations like these every day. But if you pay attention to injury news and use the metrics available, you may be able to reap the rewards. The Twitter accounts for the various teams are a good way to keep track of injury news, as are game previews on local blogs. National sites, like CBS Sports and ESPN, don’t have the resources to cover all 351 teams closely.

KenPom vs Sagarin vs Vegas: The Results

For complete transparency, below is the list of results we tracked when comparing the accuracy of KenPom and Sagarin versus the actual point-spreads and the final results.

Bucknell at Lafayette (Jan. 8)

  • KenPom: Bucknell -7 (81-74)
  • Sagarin: Bucknell -9.5
  • Actual spread: Bucknell -11.0
  • Outcome: Bucknell wins (80-75 OT), Lafayette covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was too high on Bucknell.

 

Jackson St. at Southern (Jan. 8)

  • KenPom: Southern -6 (67-61)
  • Sagarin: Southern -5.12
  • Actual spread: Southern -7.0
  • Outcome: Jackson State wins (65-61) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom; Vegas was too high on Jackson State.

 

Baylor at West Virginia (Jan. 9)

  • KenPom: West Virginia -8 (77-69)
  • Sagarin: West Virginia -13.4
  • Actual spread:  West Virginia -9.5
  • Outcome: West Virginia wins (57-54); Baylor covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was too high on WV.

 

Texas Tech at Oklahoma (Jan. 9)

  • KenPom: Texas Tech -1 (82-81)
  • Sagarin: Oklahoma -2.2
  • Actual spread: Oklahoma -2.0
  • Outcome: Oklahoma wins (75-65) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom and Vegas (slightly); Vegas was more accurate than KenPom.

 

Butler at Creighton (Jan. 9)

  • KenPom: Creighton -7 (83-76)
  • Sagarin: Creighton -6.4
  • Actual spread: Creighton -7.0
  • Outcome: Creighton wins (85-74) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin.

 

Purdue at Michigan (Jan. 9)

  • KenPom: Purdue -2 (68-66)
  • Sagarin: Purdue -2.4
  • Actual spread: Pur -2.0
  • Outcome: Purdue wins (70-69); Michigan covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin.

 

Ole Miss at Auburn (Jan. 9)

  • KenPom: Aub -12 (88-76)
  • Sagarin: Aub -17.0
  • Actual spread: Aub -10.5
  • Outcome: Auburn wins (85-70) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom; Vegas was too high on Ole Miss.

 

Dayton at Richmond (Jan. 9)

  • KenPom: Dayton -1 (68-67)
  • Sagarin: Dayton -5.4
  • Actual spread: Dayton -2.5
  • Outcome: Dayton wins (87-81) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom; Vegas was more accurate than KenPom.

 

Kansas at Iowa State (Jan. 9)

  • KenPom: Kansas -9 (83-74)
  • Sagarin: Kansas -20
  • Actual spread: Kansas -16.0
  • Outcome: Kansas wins (83-78); Iowa State covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin and Vegas.

 

Syracuse at Virginia (Jan. 9)

  • KenPom: Virginia -12 (58-46)
  • Sagarin: Virginia -15.75
  • Actual spread: Virginia -9.5
  • Outcome: Virginia wins (68-61); Syracuse covers
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

Duke at Pittsburgh (Jan. 10)

  • KenPom: Duke -14 (85-71)
  • Sagarin: Duke -16.01
  • Actual spread: Duke -20.0
  • Outcome: Duke wins (87-52) and covers
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

Louisville at Florida State (Jan. 10)

  • KenPom: FSU -6 (78-72)
  • Sagarin: FSU -9.82
  • Actual spread: FSU -6.0
  • Outcome: Louisville wins (73-69) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; KenPom tied with Vegas.

 

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (Jan. 10)

  • KenPom: Kansas State -5 (75-70)
  • Sagarin: Kansas State -5.99
  • Actual spread: Kansas State -3.0
  • Outcome: Kansas State wins (86-82) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin.

 

Colorado at USC (Jan. 10)

  • KenPom: USC -10 (81-71)
  • Sagarin: USC -8.69
  • Actual spread: USC -11.0
  • Outcome: USC wins (70-58) and covers
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest (Jan. 10)

  • KenPom: Wake Forest -1 (80-79)
  • Sagarin: Virginia Tech -2.43
  • Actual spread: Wake Forest -2.0
  • Outcome: Va. Tech wins (83-75) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom; both were more accurate than Vegas.

 

Duke at Miami (Jan. 15)

  • KenPom: Duke -2 (79-77)
  • Sagarin: Duke -2.3
  • Actual spread: Duke -4.0
  • Outcome: Duke wins (83-75) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

Kansas at West Virginia (Jan. 15)

  • KenPom: WV -3 (81-78)
  • Sagarin: WV -4.6
  • Actual spread: WV -5.5
  • Outcome: Kansas wins (71-66) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin and Vegas.

 

Illinois at Nebraska (Jan. 15)

  • KenPom: Nebraska -5 (75-70)
  • Sagarin: Nebraska -7.74
  • Actual spread: Nebraska -4.5
  • Outcome: Nebraska wins (64-63); Illinois covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

DePaul at Marquette (Jan. 15)

  • KenPom: Marquette -10 (85-75)
  • Sagarin: Marquette -14.99
  • Actual spread: Marquette -9.5
  • Outcome: Marquette wins (70-52) and covers
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom; both metrics were more accurate than Vegas.

 

Cincinnati at UCF (Jan. 16)

  • KenPom: Cincinnati -6 (60-54)
  • Sagarin: Cincinnati -6.04
  • Actual spread: Cincinnati -7.5
  • Outcome: Cincinnati wins (49-38) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was slightly more accurate than KenPom; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

Purdue at Wisconsin (Jan. 16)

  • KenPom: Purdue -17 (75-58)
  • Sagarin: Purdue -23.04
  • Actual spread: Purdue -14.5
  • Outcome: Purdue wins (78-50) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom; both metrics were more accurate than Vegas.

 

Clemson at North Carolina (Jan. 16)

  • KenPom: UNC -6 (76-70)
  • Sagarin: UNC -5.06
  • Actual spread: UNC -7.5
  • Outcome: UNC wins (87-79) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

Oklahoma at Kansas State (Jan. 16)

  • KenPom: Oklahoma -1 (83-82)
  • Sagarin: Oklahoma -4.73
  • Actual spread: Oklahoma -2.0
  • Outcome: Kansas State wins (87-69) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin and Vegas.

 

Kentucky at South Carolina (Jan. 16)

  • KenPom: UK -3 (71-68)
  • Sagarin: UK -4.08
  • Actual spread: UK -1.5
  • Outcome: South Carolina wins (76-68) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

SMU at Wichita State (Jan. 17)

  • KenPom: Wichita State -7.5 (74-66)
  • Sagarin: Wichita State -13.01
  • Actual spread: Wichita State -8.5
  • Outcome: SMU wins (83-78) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin and Vegas.

 

Auburn at Alabama (Jan. 17)

  • KenPom: Auburn -1 (79-78)
  • Sagarin: Auburn -4.00
  • Actual spread: Auburn -2.0
  • Outcome: Alabama wins (76-71) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin and Vegas.

 

St. John’s at Xavier (Jan. 17)

  • KenPom: Xavier -12 (84-72)
  • Sagarin: Xavier -14.73
  • Actual spread: Xavier -11.5
  • Outcome: Xavier wins (88-82); St. John’s covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

Iowa State at TCU (Jan. 17)

  • KenPom: TCU -12 (86-74)
  • Sagarin: TCU -13.56
  • Actual spread: TCU -10.5
  • Outcome: TCU wins (96-73) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom. Both were more accurate than Vegas.

 

Arizona State at Stanford (Jan. 17)

  • KenPom: ASU -5 (82-77)
  • Sagarin: ASU -8.20
  • Actual spread: ASU -3.5
  • Outcome: Stanford wins (86-77) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

Illinois at Wisconsin (Jan. 19)

  • KenPom: Wisconsin -4 (69-65)
  • Sagarin: Wisconsin -5.41
  • Actual spread: Wisconsin -4.5
  • Outcome: Wisconsin wins (75-50) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom and Vegas; Vegas was more accurate that KenPom.

 

St. Bonaventure at Davidson (Jan. 19)

  • KenPom: Davidson -4 (74-70)
  • Sagarin: St. Bonaventure -1.53
  • Actual spread: Davidson -5.0
  • Outcome: Davidson wins (83-73) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was more accurate than both

 

Arizona at Washington State (Jan. 31)

  • KenPom: Arizona -8 (81-73)
  • Sagarin: Arizona -10.50
  • Actual spread: Arizona -12.0
  • Outcome: Arizona wins (100-72) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

LSU at Tennessee (Jan. 31)

  • KenPom: Tennessee -11 (77-66)
  • Sagarin: Tennessee -12.28
  • Actual spread: Tennessee -9.5
  • Outcome: Tennessee wins (84-61) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom; both were more accurate than Vegas.

 

Missouri at Alabama (Jan. 31)

  • KenPom: Alabama -3 (71-68)
  • Sagarin: Alabama -3.52
  • Actual spread: Alabama -5.5
  • Outcome: Missouri wins (69-60) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; both were more accurate than Vegas.

 

Florida State at Wake Forest (Jan. 31)

  • KenPom: FSU -4 (82-78)
  • Sagarin: FSU -7.07
  • Actual spread: FSU -4.5
  • Outcome: Wake Forest wins (76-72) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin and Vegas; Vegas was more accurate than Sagarin.

 

Fairfield at Monmouth (Feb. 2)

  • KenPom: Monmouth -7 (79-72)
  • Sagarin: Monmouth -6.78
  • Actual spread: Monmouth -2.5
  • Outcome: Fairfield wins (79-78) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

Canisius at Marist (Feb. 2)

  • KenPom: Canisius -7 (77-70)
  • Sagarin: Canisius -9.13
  • Actual spread: Canisius -8.0
  • Outcome: Canisius wins (73-67); Marist covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin and Vegas; Vegas was more accurate than Sagarin.

 

Harvard at Columbia (Feb. 2)

  • KenPom: EVEN (67-67)
  • Sagarin: Harvard -3.10
  • Actual spread: Harvard -1.5
  • Outcome: Columbia wins (83-76) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin and Vegas; Vegas was more accurate than Sagarin.

 

Illinois Chicago at Oakland (Feb. 2)

  • KenPom: Oakland -9 (82-73)
  • Sagarin: Oakland -11.27
  • Actual spread: Oakland -8.0
  • Outcome:  Illinois Chicago wins (79-73) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

Indiana at Rutgers (Feb. 5)

  • KenPom: Rutgers -1 (64-63)
  • Sagarin: Indiana -0.88
  • Actual spread: Indiana -3.0
  • Outcome: Indiana wins (65-43) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

West Virginia at Oklahoma (Feb. 5)

  • KenPom: Oklahoma -1 (88-87)
  • Sagarin: Oklahoma -3.49
  • Actual spread: Oklahoma -3.0
  • Outcome: West Virginia wins (757-73) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin and Vegas; Vegas was more accurate than Sagarin.

 

Southern at Jackson State (Feb. 5)

  • KenPom: Jackson St -1 (62-61)
  • Sagarin: Jackson St -5.06
  • Actual spread: Jackson St -2.0
  • Outcome: Southern wins (67-62) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin and Vegas; Vegas was more accurate than Sagarin.

 

Colorado State at Air Force (Feb. 6)

  • KenPom: EVEN (68-68)
  • Sagarin: Air Force -0.48
  • Actual spread: Air Force -2.5
  • Outcome: Air Force wins (78-73) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom; Vegas was more accurate than both.

 

South Carolina at Arkansas (Feb. 6)

  • KenPom: Arkansas -6 (79-73)
  • Sagarin: Arkansas -8.96
  • Actual spread: Arkansas -7.0
  • Outcome: Arkansas wins (81-65) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom and Vegas; Vegas was more accurate than KenPom.

 

Missouri State at Indiana State (Feb. 6)

  • KenPom: Indiana State -3 (71-68)
  • Sagarin: Indiana State -0.59
  • Actual spread: Indiana State -1.5
  • Outcome: Missouri State wins (81-62) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom and Vegas; Vegas was more accurate than KenPom.

 

Xavier at Butler (Feb. 6)

  • KenPom: Butler -3 (80-77)
  • Sagarin: Xavier -0.54
  • Actual spread: Butler -3.5
  • Outcome:  Xavier wins (98-93) and covers.
  • Takeaway: Sagarin was more accurate than KenPom and Vegas; KenPom was more accurate than Vegas.

 

Tennessee at Kentucky (Feb. 6)

  • KenPom: Tennessee -1 (71-70)
  • Sagarin: Kentucky -0.47
  • Actual spread: Kentucky -1.5
  • Outcome: Tennessee wins (61-69) and covers.
  • Takeaway: KenPom was more accurate than Sagarin and Vegas; Sagarin was more accurate than Vegas.