If you haven’t caught on yet, one of the biggest stories of this year’s NCAA tournament is the Under. Not including the Sweet Sixteen games, the Under is an amazing 35-17 through the first 52 games of March Madness. That includes the First Four games as well.
At one point early in Round 2, the Under was sitting at 33-11. That’s 75 percent! When the first two rounds were complete, the Under was still cashing at a 67 percent rate. What in the world is going on here? Will it continue?
So, one of the biggest factors in the number of Unders so far in the tournament is three-point shooting. Even teams that shot well during the regular season have struggled early in the tourney.
In Round 1, 44 of the 64 teams shot below their season average for three-pointers. In the second round, it was even worse. Of the 32 teams that advanced, 23 of them shot below their season average. That means roughly 70 percent of the time when teams took the floor in the opening weekend of the tournament they shot worse than their season three-point shooting percentage.
The bigger thing is this. Twenty-five of the 44 teams that shot threes worse in Round 1 did so by a margin of eight percentage points or more. Not only were they missing threes; they were missing badly.
Interesting Three-Point Stats
In the first two rounds of the tourney, only four teams – TCU, Kansas, Marquette, and UConn – shot better than their season three-point average. Texas and Penn State shot the best from long range in Round 1.
When the two teams met in Round 2, they combined to shoot an awful 21.9 percent from behind the arc.
The best three-point shooting team in Round 2 was Creighton. The Blue Jays hit 45.8 percent of their threes in their win over Baylor. In the first round, Creighton shot 15 percent from three. Somehow, that wasn’t the worst performance in Round 1.
The Neutral Court Theory
One of the theories behind why teams are shooting so poorly from downtown is the neutral court. Some say it may be the new ball being used in the tournament or even the added pressure of playing in the Big Dance.
Teams have to contend with strange sightlines and strange shooting backgrounds. There are also some hostile fans trying to get into their heads. The crowds are typically loud and rowdy even though they may not be supporters of either team.
However, if the neutral court is the main reason for all the Unders, it would stand to reason that the trend would continue. Remember, the entire tournament is played on neutral floors.
Slow & Low That Is the Tempo
It seems tournament teams are taking a cue from the Beastie Boys. Looking at adjusted tempo numbers that take into account the strength of the opponent, we find that 81.3 percent of the 64 tournament teams are playing more slowly than normal.
Fewer possessions per game is the result of slower tempo. When you combine fewer possessions with poor shooting, the result is what we saw in the first two rounds of the tournament – Unders.
The Rest of the Tournament
Does this trend continue? It’s a great question, but bettors should beware. Even with the horrible three-point shooting early in the tourney, Overs went 6-2 over the final eight games in Round 2.
Plus, the books know that the public is likely to jump on this trend. When that happens, the public typically ends up behind the eight-ball. Sportsbooks will set enough traps for bettors to fall into. It has happened already.
Through the first four games of the Sweet Sixteen, the Over is 3-1. Michigan and Kansas State went to overtime, but they were way Over (82-82) the 138 total in regulation. Arkansas-UConn went Over by 13 points and Gonzaga-UCLA by 9.5.
Interestingly, Kansas State (45.8%), UConn (45%), and Gonzaga (38%) all shot well from three-point range as they advanced to the Elite Eight. Those three games all went Over.