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How The 30-second Shot Clock Impacts Your NCAA Tourney Bets

The 2017 NCAA basketball tournament made scoreboard lights blingity-bling like we’ve never seen before. Points and points for days. 

Games averaged 147.9 points – nearly 12 points more than we saw just two seasons ago. And yet, this will be one of the overlooked storylines of the tournament. 

Why? Because we’ve had the 30-second shot clock in college hoops for two seasons now and mainstream media would consider it old news. Same for the foul rules that were implemented at the start of last season. But oddsmakers are still adjusting to it and we saw that in 2017 when nearly 58 percent of tournament games went OVER the total (38-27-2). 

That’s huge considering bookmakers are so annoyingly sharp that these totals almost always hover around the 50-50 mark. It was the second straight year we saw more OVERs than UNDERs in the tournament and you might want to keep your eye on this one throughout March. 

Here’s a look at how the last three tournaments went for points and OVER/UNDERs: 

Points Per game in college basketball
YearNCAA tourney PPG Avg.Reg. Season PPG Avg.OVER/UNDER Record in tourney

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At the end of the college basketball season two years ago, the NCAA realized it had a developing problem on its hands: it needed more scoring. 

It seemed 134.3 points per game just weren’t enough, even though ratings for the 2015 NCAA Tournament were at an all-time high. Hey, we’re talking about getting the most out of a blockbuster 14-year, $10.8-billion television deal here that the NCAA signed with CBS and Turner for March Madness rights through 2024. 

Now, everybody knows that big TV deals demand big eyeball counts and getting more eyeballs has come to mean more scoring in today’s high-profile sports. 

Bring on the rule changes. The 30-second shot clock was introduced last season, reduced from 35, and it has been the biggest change to college basketball since the three-point line was moved back in 2008-09. 

Scoring exploded to almost 145 points per game with the move – a backboard-shattering difference of 11 points per game. And you’re never going to believe this but the NCAA decided to extend its deal with the networks for another eight years and a cool $8.8 billion. 

See what’s happening here? 

But ratings were down last year and this year we saw defensive restrictions added to the rule book. So scoring has gone up again to 146.0 points per game. That’s a difference of four to six possessions depending on whether we’re talking about two-pointers or threes when we compare things to two seasons ago. 

So how have oddsmakers adjusted? Frustratingly well, as far as bettors are concerned. 
Through nearly 3,500 games, the OVER cashed in at just 51.3 percent (1772-1683-42), which isn’t enough to make money for the bettor if you blindly bet the OVER or the UNDER. Score one for the sportsbooks. 

But a look back and we see that sportsbooks had a little trouble adjusting out of the gate this season. Through the first four weeks, the average total was over 146 points per game but the average score of each game was nearly one point less. It may not sound like much but that led to the UNDER cashing in at almost 54 percent. 

Now that’s not quite enough to make a profit but it’s pretty darn close. 

We saw the same difficulty to adjust last season when oddsmakers had to contend with the 30-second shot clock for the first time in the tournament. They didn’t set totals nearly high enough and OVER bettors slaughtered the books for a 20-12 OVER record throughout the first week. 

Just like this season, though, oddsmakers adjusted. The OVER/UNDER ended up at 35-32 for the tournament for an OVER win rate of just 52 percent. 

This year oddsmakers have more changes to the game to adjust to in what is just the second year for the 30-second shot clock. You may want to hold off on wagering on totals in the first week to see how they adjust. 

Points Per Game in the NCAA
YearNCAA tournament ppgReg. season ppgOVER/UNDER record in NCAA tourney

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