College basketball risks losing betting appeal

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN.com) 

Is college basketball losing some of its appeal for sports bettors? A danger certainly exists amid the decrease in offensive efficiency this season. For recreational bettors, if it’s not fun to watch, it’s not fun to bet on. 

If you like watching the ball go through the hoop, college basketball is becoming less fun to watch.

Offensive efficiency is noticeably, significantly down this season, according to the publicly posted data at Ken Pomeroy’s market-trusted website (kenpom.com). That’s scoring adjusted for pace. Pomeroy also adjusts for schedule strength. Using this season’s data from midweek in points scored per 100 possessions:

— Current 2019-20 leaders: Gonzaga 116.0, Dayton 115.8, Duke 115.2, Iowa 114.9, LSU 114.7.

— Final 2018-19 leaders: Gonzaga 124.5, Virginia 123.4, Tennessee 122.7, Purdue 122.5, Michigan State 121.0. 

— Final 2017-18 leaders: Virginia 127.8, Purdue 122.7, Duke 122.4, Wichita State 121.0, Kansas 120.9.

Gonzaga has maintained best-in-the-country status from last season but is scoring 8.5 fewer points per 100 possessions. If you think the phenomenon occurring at the top of the ladder is not reflecting the sport as a whole, the national midpoints in the thickest part of the bell curve were 104.9 two seasons ago and 104.4 last season but just 100.5 in 2019-20. 

It’s like the rims shrunk.

Most commonly cited as causes for the decline:

— The NCAA lengthening 3-point distance before the start of this season. It’s tougher than it used to be to make treys.

— An increasing strategic switch from crashing the boards on offense to sending everyone back to play defense when a shot goes up. This approach hurts both teams’ offensive stats. 

— The long-decried impact of youth basketball programs emphasizing individual scoring at the expense of teamwork that creates open looks for shooters. 

Whatever the causes, even the best handicappers and bettors are dealing with what feels like a different sport this season. Some tips:

— Don’t assume betting Unders is free money. Betting markets are sophisticated, and they reacted to the new reality fairly quickly. However, you might be able to find some teams still being mispriced. Among the AP top 25, Kansas, Ohio State and Maryland have skewed Under. 

— De-emphasize rebounding in your stat handicapping. You may be penalizing teams with poor rebounding differentials that just changed the way they’re winning. 

— Bet on lineups with proven ability to score efficiently, particularly as underdogs. Some hyped favorites might even offer postseason value because so many tournament point spreads are low. Make it a point of emphasis to study offensive execution now for teams you’ll be handicapping through March.

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