Duke-UNC matchup: Fast pace doesn't automatically mean Over

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN.com) 

February 20, 2019 01:15 AM

It’s safe to assume that tonight's much-anticipated showdown featuring #8 North Carolina at #1 Duke (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) is going to be played at a very fast pace. 

North Carolina entered the new week ranked #6 nationally in adjusted pace (points per possession adjusted for opponents), according to college basketball statistical website kenpom.com. Duke ranked #18. With 353 measured teams, both are top 5%. Players should be flying up and down the court all night in a virtual track meet.

Many novice bettors assume that a very fast game like that must be “an automatic Over” in terms of the total. It’s going be run-and-gun. “Oddsmakers can’t make the number high enough!” 

The problem is…the market KNOWS which teams are the fast and slow ones …and posts an estimate based on that knowledge. In fact, this season, the market has been overestimating scoring sums for games involving these teams…

  • Duke: 7-16 to the Under
  • North Carolina: 12-13 to the Under

Nobody’s making money betting the Blue Devils and Tar Heels Over this season. The five fastest teams according to kenpom.com entering the week (Florida International, Eastern Kentucky, Savannah State, Citadel, and Buffalo) are just 60-55-5 to the Over this season. Betting Over is a slight money loser there because of the 10% vigorish on lost bets (55 losses becomes 60.5 losses in real money terms).

People new to betting, both on the front lines at sports books and in the media, have a tendency to assume “fast” means “Over” and “slow” means “Under” in basketball handicapping. Same thing to a degree in football, though they might talk about two great quarterbacks playing an Over, or two stingy defenses forcing an Under. 

The market isn’t blind! Even if oddsmakers were blind, smart money would pound the lines to the right place in short order. Oddsmakers are aware of pace (or are copying their numbers from sites that are aware of pace).

Sharps have more advanced methods for pinning down a number, and will fix early errors with their money. By the time YOU get to the window, something simple like “best fast teams to go Over” isn’t likely to work more often than random chance. 

If you’re going to make a case for the Over, you have to see something about one or both teams that isn’t already being accounted for in the number. Maybe one team’s bench plays horrible defense, and you believe they’re going to be forced into more minutes in a frantic affair. Maybe you know one of the referees has a “fast whistle” history which will create more dead-ball points. 

Bettors will be confronted with daily “extreme” types of games in the tournaments. Many top contenders are skewing fast (North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, LSU) or slow (Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech); with several more closer to one end of the spectrum or the other. It’s a good habit to develop NOW. Know pace tendencies, but think deeper than pace to make Over/Under bets. 


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