The first rounds of the Tournament where the most high scoring ever & saw 11 of the 16 games go 'Over'. Is that something bettors should continue to count on as the Big Dance stretches on?
Rules Changes Have Worked
Americans like offense. It's a fact of life, and it doesn't matter the sport. It might partially help explain why hockey and soccer still lag far behind football and basketball (both college and professional) in this country. Behind baseball too. And that's especially true in betting action.
College football has never been more offensively oriented than it is now. Like the NFL, the rules in college heavily favor the offenses. You can barely touch quarterbacks or receivers these days. And many top high school players are brought up playing 7-on-7 football. It's all about passing and scoring, and it's why you see the vast majority of programs running up-tempo offenses. Kids want to play offense, not defense. It's smart recruiting to cater to what those high school stars want.
That brings us to NCAA Basketball. Last season, scoring in Division I dropped to an average of 67.6 points per game per team. That neared historic lows for the sport. NCAA Basketball struggles to draw interest as it is in the regular season because the only games that truly matter are in March. Some games last season were simply unwatchable, including in the NCAA Tournament. Since 2010, the winning team in the national championship game has scored more than 68 points only once. Four times a team in the finals has been held in the 50s or lower. The 2011 title game between UConn and Butler was perhaps the ugliest offensive title game ever, with the Huskies winning 53-41.
So last June, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved the most important NCAA Basketball rules changes since the introduction of the 3-point arc and the shot clock. This time, the shot clock was reduced from 35 seconds to 30; it was last reduced for the 1993-94 season when it went from 45 seconds to 35. Other directives were limiting defensive physicality both on the dribbler on the perimeter (i.e. hand-checking) and in the post. Teams also were allowed one fewer timeout per game to help pace of play. There were a few other alterations. All were to improve offensive flow.
It has all worked.
Teams averaged about 73.0 points per game in the regular season. Five schools averaged 80 points or better in 2014-15, led by Northwestern State's 84.1. This season, 27 teams averaged at least 80, led by Oakland's 86.3. Two of the NCAA Tournament betting favorites, Kansas and North Carolina, both averaged at least 81.6 points per game.
Shooting percentages are only slightly up, but possessions have risen from 65.8 last season to 70 this year. Think about it this way: if a team gets six more possessions this season than last and shoots 50 percent on 2-pointers each game, that's six more points a game (more if you include 3-pointers).
NCAA Basketball coaches are just like their football brethren. They know recruits want to play fast. You are always going to have outliers who are going to slow the pace down and win with defense like a Virginia; that's in Coach Tony Bennett's blood. But it's also why five-star recruits rarely go to UVA. The best way to get noticed by NBA scouts is to put up points.
So will this continue moving forward? The old adage is defense wins championships. And generally the referees start calling the games tighter when the teams are more evenly matched, so keep that in mind . Let's look at Duke last year on its way to the national title. The Blue Devils scored 85 points in the Round of 64 blowout of No. 16 Robert Morris but then only topped 68 once more.
Scores will remain up from last season, but they won't be so wildly 'over' the totals as the rounds progress and the competition improves (as do the stakes). Online sportsbooks also will adjust the NCAA Tournament odds.