Why Pace is the Key to Betting Wednesday’s First Four Matchups

Why Pace is the Key to Betting Wednesday’s First Four Matchups article feature image

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

We are 24 hours away from the tip of the first round of the NCAA tournament. Most college basketball fans consider this the official start of March Madness. Play-in games be damned.

But, before the 64-team field can be set, the final two First Four games must be played in Dayton.

  • N.C. Central vs. Texas Southern (6:40 p.m ET)
  • Syracuse vs. Arizona State (9:10 p.m. ET)


Each matchup features a squad that plays at a slow pace. How can bettors profit? We’ve identified a 200-game trend that is 59% ATS with a play on each contest.

Casual bettors often overvalue elite offensive teams. Squares tend to wager on up-tempo offenses while ignoring slow-paced teams. Pace is measured by the number of team possessions per 40 minutes. The higher the number, the faster the team’s tempo. For example, the Oklahoma Sooners have scored 85.2 points per game (4th best in the nation) and have one of the highest pace averages in the tournament (76.8). Top overall seed Virginia scored 67.5 points per game (tied for 309th) and is the slowest-paced team in the field averaging 60.5 possessions per 40 minutes.

Since 2010, when we started tracking pace data, teams with a pace of 70 or less have gone 209-190-15 (52.4%) ATS. Slow-paced underdogs offer the most value.

Underdogs with a pace of 70 or less have gone 114-80-10 (59%) ATS since 2010. Teams with slow and methodical offenses can shorten the game by milking the shot clock, which allows these underdogs to stay competitive and cover the spread.

Slow Dogs

N.C. Central (+5.5) vs. Texas Southern: This is one of the most heavily bet games on the board tonight. The public has declared for Texas Southern with nearly 60% of spread tickets being wagered on the Tigers. In heavily bet tournament games, fading the public has been a profitable strategy: 73-45-4 (62%) ATS since 2005. Go Eagles!

Syracuse (+2) vs. Arizona State: Arizona State struggles against zone defenses, which they faced at the ninth-highest rate in the country. No team plays zone defense more than Jim Boeheim’s (pictured above) squad. Not only does Syracuse play slow, but its 2-3 zone will limit Arizona State’s high-scoring offense (83.5 ppg).

Photo via Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports