NCAA Tournament Tempo Report: 4 Over/Under Bets for First-Round Games, Including FAU vs. Memphis & More
Dylan Buell/Getty Images. Pictured: Memphis’ DeAndre Williams.
College basketball is a much more complex handicap than any of the other major sports.
In football, the goal is to dominate the line of scrimmage, as any team moving the chains with efficiency generally wins the game.
In basketball, there are so many clashing styles, and opportunity arises in the gambling market. Teams may choose to run half-court sets filled with isolation, screens and cuts to the basketball. Some college basketball defenses are excellent at protecting the rim, while others struggle to defend the arc.
Oddsmakers are quick to open sides and totals after the bracket gets released. Those numbers are pure mathematical calculations without a look into tempo or set frequency.
This article will look at the tempo clashes in the opening round and where a total may need investment before opening tip.
Tuesday, March 14
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi vs. Southeast Missouri State
Over/Under: 153.5 · Projection: 159.2
An opener of 152.5 was quickly slammed to the over when the First Four lines hit the board.
The tempo is there for Southeast Missouri State, which ranks seventh in KenPom Adjusted Tempo. While the Redhawks play fast and allow opponents to push the tempo in the Ohio Valley, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is no stranger to pushing pace as the 52nd-fastest possession length in the nation.
The most important piece of this matchup is free-throw rate. When betting an over, who doesn’t love the clock stopped and shots from the charity stripe?
Southeast Missouri State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi get to the line with a frequency rank of 31st and 89th, respectively. Conversely, both defenses foul in droves with ranks of 319th and 355th, respectively.
Tempo will get us to the oddsmakers’ numbers, and the free throws will cash the ticket.
Verdict: Over 153.5 (Play to 159)
Wednesday, March 15
Fairleigh Dickinson vs. Texas Southern
Over/Under: 146.5 · Projection: 152
Another First Four game has an edge to the over in the totals department.
Fairleigh Dickinson ran through the NEC with an Adjusted Tempo rank of 110th, while Texas Southern allowed the SWAC to generate the 19th-fastest defensive possession length in the country.
The Tigers didn’t play as fast offensively as their SWAC counterparts, but there’s reason to believe both of these teams will have success against one another.
Texas Southern has the 16th-highest rate of scoring from within the arc, an area Fairleigh Dickinson ranks near-dead last in defensively.
The offensive strategy for the Tigers consists of half-court sets and cutting to the basket with a top-50 rate of finishing at the rim. The Knights severely struggle defending cuts to the basket, ranking 336th in defensive efficiency, per ShotQuality.
On the flip side, Fairleigh Dickinson also loves to cut to the basket and finish at the rim at a top-50 rate. The Tigers have struggled defensively against cutters (313th).
Each team holds a higher rank on the offensive glass, which will result in the easy putbacks needed to go over the total.
Verdict: Over 146.5 (Play to 152)
Thursday, March 16
Northern Kentucky vs. Houston
Over/Under: 122 · Projection: 118.5
There may be room for this number to go a bit lower in betting markets, as Houston and Northern Kentucky represent the slowest teams in the tournament.
Houston comes in with an Adjusted Tempo rank of 343rd, while Northern Kentucky is 358th in the same category. If there was a picture next to the word “gridlock” in the dictionary, it would be the Cougars and Norse from Birmingham.
There are plenty of checkpoints that suggest this game will struggle for baskets. Both teams are outside the top 290 in getting to the foul line. Houston walks the ball up the court, running isolation sets and settling for mid-range jumpers.
Northern Kentucky has a top-50 rank defensively against mid-range shots while posting a mark of 77th against teams running isolation.
The Cougars have fallen behind in plenty of games, often relying on 10-0 runs to dig out of holes.
Northern Kentucky does move a bit faster offensively with a higher rate of transition attempts. The Norse love the catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, using it at the 18th-highest frequency.
The issue for Northern Kentucky is it has a shooting efficiency outside the top 300.
This game will be ugly, but with no signs of these teams getting to the free-throw line late in the game, an under can be safely played.
Verdict: Under 122.5 (Play to 118.5)
Friday, March 17
Florida Atlantic vs. Memphis
Over/Under: 150.5 · Projection: 152
Two teams from mid-major conferences had hopes of drawing a sleepy power-conference member for an upset. Instead, Florida Atlantic and Memphis are paired together.
Oddsmakers opened the total a point lower than the projection, but there may be a reason for this number to run even lower.
Both the Owls and Tigers have a much slower average possession length on the defensive side, acknowledging that neither team opts for a full-court press.
Where points may be an issue is the aggressiveness of the defenses in the half-court.
Florida Atlantic gets a large share of its points from the perimeter, an area Memphis is 28th nationally in defending. The Owls are 13th in catch-and-shoot 3-point efficiency, only to be topped by the Tigers’ defensive mark of 12th nationally.
As for Memphis, Penny Hardaway prefers the Tigers pound the paint at the 28th-highest rate nationally. Transition, cuts and finishing at the rim are the foundations of this offense.
Florida Atlantic has been excellent defending the interior, with a 2-point defensive rating of 11th, per KenPom. Florida Atlantic holds top-50 rankings against half-court sets, pick-and-roll sets and midrange jump-shot attempts.
Verdict: Under 150.5 (Play to 150)
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