It’s a good old-fashioned mystery.
One of the biggest storylines of the March Madness tournament, from a betting perspective, is that UNDERs have been cashing at an alarming rate. In fact, I wish I hopped on the trend earlier in my Tournament Picks, with just one totals bet in the opening weekend -- it cashed by the way.
Midway through Round 2 of the Big Dance, UNDERs were 33-11 for a ridiculous 75 percent win rate. On the final day of Round 2, OVERs went 6-2, leaving us with a 35-17 record (including First Four games) and a slightly less ridiculous 67 percent win rate. But why?
Poor 3-point shooting
Even teams that were excellent three-point shooters in the regular season suddenly went cold from behind the arc in the tournament.
In the first round, 44 of 64 teams (66.6%) shot worse from three-point range than their season average. In Round 2, 23 of 32 (71.9%) shot below their season average. In total, that means 69.8 percent of the time a team took the court in the tournament, it shot worse from three-point range than it did during the season.
It’s not just that teams were slightly worse than their season average either. In Round 1, 25 of 44 (56.8%) teams that were worse at three-point shooting than they were during the season were more than eight percentage points worse. In Round 2, 12 of 23 teams (48%) shot more than eight points worse than their season average.
Below are some more random and quirky facts about long-range shots in the tournament thus far:
Possible theories for March Madness UNDERs
Theories on why the three-point shooting has been so bad have ranged widely from a new ball being used in the tournament to the added pressure of playing in the Big Dance.
However, the most likely culprit is the neutral court. In a traditional game with one home team and one away team, the visiting team is shooting in a hostile environment (rowdy fans, new stadium, more noise) while the other team has a more friendly environment.
On a neutral court, both teams have the challenge of dealing with the elements. That means fans trying to get in their heads and unfamiliar sightlines and shooting backgrounds.
If the neutral court has been the main culprit, it’s important to note that teams change venues in future rounds, which would continue the unfamiliarity.
The adjusted tempo (Adj. T) ratings at Barttorvik.com are based on possessions per game and are tweaked to account for strength of opponents. This advanced analytic stat essentially tells us how fast teams are playing.
If you take all 64 tournament teams and compare their tempo from before March 15 with their tempo after the tournament started, 81.3 percent of teams are playing at a slower tempo.
A slower tempo means fewer possessions and when teams are shooting as poorly as outlined above on more limited possessions, it becomes clear why so many UNDERs are cashing.
How To Bet Totals The Rest Of March Madness
It’s important to note that bookmakers have access to all the data laid out in this article.
The guys who set the lines are notorious for setting traps once a strong trend like this goes mainstream. I believe that is why we saw OVERs be profitable (6-2) on the last day of Round 2 even though three-point shooting was still abysmal.
Bettors can’t expect bookmakers to sit back and watch their money bleed away as the public piles on a bandwagon trend. Instead, oddsmakers make adjustments like they do in the NFL or other sports when these sorts of trends happen, and eventually the day comes when the trend ends abruptly in painful fashion for folks with tunnel vision who were just following trends.
The madness of March is especially unpredictable this season, so be careful out there betting on totals.