Betting Sweet Sixteen Totals
by Trevor Whenham - 03/21/2007
It's probably because everyone fills out brackets that so many bettors seem to be focused on betting sides during the NCAA tournament. People get accustomed to thinking about winners and losers, so they seem to pay more attention to which team will cover the spread than they do to totals. This is especially true for the casual bettors who only emerge this time of year. By ignoring totals, though, you are ignoring a great source of potential profits. As they are during the regular season, tournament totals can be an excellent investment, especially when a particularly glaring opportunity emerges.
Two games from the opening weekend perfectly illustrate the possibilities that excite totals bettors. Long Beach State and Tennessee faced a total of 166. Both teams have explosive offenses, and both teams view defense as a dirty word. Though their total was the highest of the entire weekend, both teams had shown several times that they had the ability to score the points that they would need to go over, especially when they don't have to overcome a rigid defense. As it turned out, Tennessee almost covered the total by themselves. The teams combined for 41 more points than they needed - you could have counted your profits with six minutes remaining if you bet the over. On the other extreme, if you had watched the first round, or any games this season, you would know that both Indiana and UCLA focus on defense first. You'd also know that both teams were struggling on offense. Given the expected painfully slow tempo and the tough defense, it seemed that the total of 126.5 was perhaps a fair bit too high. That's how it played out - the teams scored just 103 points. Both totals were fairly easy to handicap, and it was arguably easier in both cases to make a decision on the total than it was to pick a winner against the spread.
Here's a quick look at some interesting totals in the Sweet Sixteen:
Kansas vs. Southern Illinois (125) - If we were only considering Southern Illinois then this would be a simple decision. The Salukis are playing great defense, and they have gone under lower totals than this in their first two tournament games. They don't score well at the best of times, and they are going up against the team that is ranked No. 1 in the country in defensive efficiency, so their scoring problems aren't likely to improve. On the other hand, Kansas hasn't been making a habit of going under lately. They've gone over significantly higher totals in each of their last three games. They haven't just barely gone over, either - they've blown past the total by 28, 23.5 and 24.5 points. The total here will ultimately depend upon which team can establish the tempo.
Texas A&M vs. Memphis (134) - Memphis isn't playing a lot of high scoring games these days. They have gone over just once in the last eight games. They've accomplished that by playing excellent defense, though they haven't faced a team of the caliber of Texas A&M during that stretch, or a player playing as well as Acie Law is right now. The Aggies have been less consistent against the total lately. They have gone over in four of their last six games, but they went under in the two games by 17.5 and 22.5 points. When they go over they go way over, but that doesn't happen all the time.
Pittsburgh vs. UCLA (123.5) - When you combine the staunch defense and the recent scoring woes of the Bruins, you have a recipe for going under. The team has gone over just once in the last five games, and that was only because their conference tournament game against Cal went into overtime. If they can get their act together, though, they have shown that they can go over totals - they went over in their six previous games. Pitt has gone over in their last two games. It could be relevant to look at the two games before that, though. They went under against both Louisville and Georgetown, two teams that, like UCLA, are in the top 20 in the nation for defensive efficiency.
Butler vs. Florida (125.5) - Butler is a team that oddsmakers haven't been able to keep up with when setting totals recently. They have gone under in their last three games, and it has been by an average of 12 points. The defense is clicking, they have been successful in establishing a very slow tempo, and the offense isn't at its best. On the other hand, the Gators have gone over in five of their last seven, and in 17 of 29 on the season. Florida especially seems to like playing on a neutral court - they have gone over in seven of their last nine games played on neutral courts.
Georgetown vs. Vanderbilt (131.5) - The Hoyas go under as consistently as any team in the country - 18 times in 30 games. They've stepped up their pace recently, going under in eight of their last 11. They face a Vanderbilt team that has gone over in seven of their last nine. The Hoyas are facing a higher total than they have seen in 14 of their last 16 games, and Vandy has only seen a lower total twice all season. A key determining factor will be how well the Commodores react to the intensely physical play that the Hoyas favor.
North Carolina vs. USC (150) - The Trojans have seemingly forgotten how to go under. They last time they failed to eclipse a total was on Feb. 1. That's an incredible streak of 13 straight covers. This is a higher total than they faced at any point during that stretch, though. The Tar Heels are also piling up the points lately, going over in their last three and six of their last eight. This is a case of two talented and very hot teams facing off with everything on the line. It could be explosive.