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College Basketball Totals

   by Bryan Leonard - 02/19/2006

Off the top of your head, give me a quick answer: When you think of Duke, would you classify the Blue Devils as a slow defensive-oriented team, or a wide-open, run-and-gun team?

The answer is easy: They run. That's not surprising, as the program is able to stockpile McDonald's All Americans each season, bloating their depth, not to mention the fact that Coach K always has a brilliant ball handler or two capable of running the break. Sports bettors should notice that Duke started this season 15-8 over the total. Their wide-open running offense and capacity for nailing three-pointers is key factor in this correlation.

Naturally, coaching philosophies are tied into this, as well as personnel. Certain coaches prefer the up tempo game, like Gonzaga's Mark Few, Roy Williams and Coach K. Then that program has to balance this with the right personnel.

This season the lack of personnel and an overabundance of youth have been problems for coaches like Bobby Knight and Rick Pitino who also prefer an up tempo approach. Pitino had to endure the loss of Tarquan Dean for several weeks, and even with Dean, Pitino has admitted he has a young team that is a few years away. Louisville started 14-5 under the total, while Texas Tech is 16-8 under the total. This is where public perception comes into play. The general betting public thinks of Texas Tech and Louisville as explosive offensive teams under those coaches, and they have been in the past, yet they just don't have the offensive personnel this season for several reasons.

Other coaches prefer a slow down, all out defensive approach. The contrast has been very noticeable in the NBA this season, as the Pistons went from defensive-oriented Larry Brown last season to coach Flip Saunders this year. Saunders has let his troops run and be more creative offensively, and the difference in Detroit's points scored and points allowed has been stark.

It happens in college, too. Temple under Jon Chaney comes to mind as a program that plays a slow, stifling defense. Temple started 14-9 under the total. Nobody likes to play Air Force of the Mountain West Conference with its strangling defense, and notice the Falcons are 11-6 under the total. Northwestern and Wisconsin? Two Big 10 teams with defensive reputations. And what do we find when examining their over/under tendencies? Northwestern is 13-5 under the total, while Wisconsin is 9-4 under the total at home.

That last point is worth reviewing carefully. Some teams fit into their preconceived model at home but not so much on the road. Wisconsin's defense has been sensational at home, allowing 58 ppg, but on the road they allow 74 ppg! So it is wiser to look at the Badgers under at home, but either lay off a totals play when they go on the road.

This has been the case with Dave Odom's South Carolina squad, too. Odom likes tough defense and this season they allow 57 ppg at home (7-3 under), but 70 ppg on the road. Washington State: 9-5 under the total at home, where they slow things to a crawl. The same is true for slow-down St. Louis at 13-4 under the total overall.

Southern Illinois has been a sensational defensive team the last few years and they take great pride in defending their home turf. Southern Illinois is 15-11 under the total on the season and 9-2 under at home. Coaching strategies, personnel, home/road play and even reputations need to be examined when assessing college basketball over/under spots.

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