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College Basketball Teams Shoot Worse in Football Stadiums, But Don’t Rush to Bet Final Four Unders

  • College basketball teams shoot worse in football stadiums due to altered sight-lines, but that hasn't led to value on the under in recent years.
  • In fact, the betting market has perhaps over-adjusted to that trend and not accounted for the overall rise in 3-point rate and tempo in the Final Four.
  • Ryan Collinsworth examines the data and explains how things have changed recently.

The NCAA Tournament’s Final Four has been held in football stadiums every year since the 1999-2000 season. That’s not the standard college hoops venue, obviously.

These massive coliseums dwarf most college arenas in seating capacity, and they also have different dimensions than a normal basketball arena.

As a result, there exists this belief that teams shoot poorly when playing in football stadiums due to altered sight-lines and depth perception.

So, I did some data-mining to evaluate whether or not this theory is true — and what effect it has on betting over/unders in the Final Four.

Testing the Theory: Do Teams Actually Shoot Poorly in Football Arenas?

In short, yes.

I compiled a master list of every NCAA Tournament game played in football stadiums since the 2004-05 season (of which there have been 111) and logged pertinent team statistics and game outcomes for each of them. Then, I compared each team’s performance in football stadiums to the rest of their games in traditional basketball venues in the given season:

As you can see in the table above, teams do shoot worse in football stadiums compared to their season averages in just about every way.

It’s also worth noting that Final Four games produce similar splits to NCAA Tournament games played in football stadiums. This reinforces that the observed decline in shooting efficiency is likely due to the game’s venue rather than the heightened level of competition in Final Four play.

Historical Over/Under Trends

Our preliminary data seems to support the prevailing theory that teams indeed shoot poorly when playing in football stadiums. So, we should expect the under to be hitting at a high clip in such games, right?

Well… it used to.

From 2005 to 2014, the under went 13-7 in Final Four games relative to the game’s closing total, per our data at Bet Labs. But, from 2015 to 2018, the over has made a huge comeback, going 7-1.

Overall, that gives the under a 14-14 record since 2005, which doesn’t seem to reflect the poor shooting splits reported in the previous section, albeit it’s in a small sample.

Furthermore, the over’s 7-1 record since 2015 seems peculiar. For the over to reverse course so strongly over the last four seasons, something major must have changed in the betting marketplace.

The way I see it, there are two potential ways the betting market may have changed in recent years:

  1. It’s possible that oddsmakers and the market have adjusted to teams’ poor historical shooting in football stadiums by lowering opening totals and deflating value on the under.
  2. However, it’s also possible that books haven’t adjusted enough to on-court factors like rising 3-point rates and faster tempos that are driving higher game totals irrespective of venue. The market may be too anchored to the “football stadium” trend and are missing a stronger secondary trend driving game totals up.

Let’s examine each of these scenarios to see what might be going on.

Possible Explanation: Oddsmakers are Sand-Bagging Opening Totals

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