Scoring down but parity up this year

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I have always enjoyed writing season recaps. It gives you a chance to reflect on what you just watched and jot down some notes for next year.  

But I was hoping to write this column in mid-April, not mid-March.  

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Nonetheless, there are still plenty of takeaways that we can carry into next season. We saw two important rule changes for the 2019-20 season: The 3-point line was moved back and the shot clock was shortened following an offensive rebound. How did those changes impact the betting market?  

According to KenPom, the national average on 3-point shooting dropped from 34.4 percent in the 2018-19 season to 33.3 percent in 2019-20. The beneficiary of that change ended up being “Overs” involving teams that rarely shoot 3-pointers. 

The three teams with the highest percentage of Overs this season were Gonzaga, New Orleans and Duke. Those three teams finished No. 301, 303 and 348 in 3-point frequency.  

Thirteen teams finished the season with an “Over” rate at 66.7 percent or greater. Only one of those teams had a 3-point frequency in the country’s top-150 (IUPUI at No. 140), and almost all of them were outside the top-250. Teams that stayed away from the 3-point line played higher-scoring games compared to the rest of the market. 

The average game total dropped from 143.8 in the 2018-19 season to 140.4 in the season that just completed. It was the lowest-scoring season since 2014-15. 

A major contributor for that decrease in scoring was fewer trips to the foul line. It’s hard to believe, especially if you watch college basketball on a nightly basis, but the free throw rate continues to be on a steady decline. According to KenPom, the number of free throws per possession has gone down in each of the last six seasons. 

As coaches and players are constantly on the move in college basketball, keep an eye on how those moves impact conference-wide trends. In the 2017-18 season, the West Coast Conference played at the slowest pace in all of college basketball (65.5 possessions per game). Two years later, the WCC was No. 10 in the country in tempo at 69.1 possessions per game. That is a sharp increase in a short amount of time. 

New coaches in the conference like Lorenzo Romar at Pepperdine, Todd Golden at San Francisco and Sam Scholl at San Diego have all shown an affinity for increased tempo. That increased tempo certainly helped Gonzaga become the No. 1 “Over” team in the country this year. 

We could all use a welcomed distraction right about now, so let’s start thinking about some teams to keep an eye on for next season.  

West Virginia completed this past season at No. 281 in experience, and No. 5 in bench minutes. What does that mean? Bob Huggins played a lot of guys, and almost all of them were underclassmen. Jermaine Haley was the only senior in the Mountaineers’ main rotation. 

West Virginia finished the season No. 3 in the country in defensive efficiency, but the Mountaineers were dreadful in some major offensive categories. Marginal improvement to their 3-point percentage (28.6) and free throw percentage (64.2) should have the Mountaineers competing for a Big XII title next year. 

Colorado lost its last five games to close the year, but the Buffaloes were a top-20 team in KenPom’s ratings for most of the 2019-20 season.  

Colorado was No. 3 in the country in minutes continuity, and nearly the whole team is slated to come back next year. The Buffaloes’ top four contributors – McKinley Wright, Tyler Bey, Evan Battey, and D’Shawn Schwartz – are all underclassmen. 

Hofstra was the country’s best team against the spread this season, going 25-8 versus the closing line. The Pride covered the spread in 12 of their last 13 games.  

Hofstra will be an interesting team to monitor this summer after losing seniors Desure Buie and Eli Pemberton. Buie and Pemberton both finished the season in the top-25 in minutes played. Hofstra was the only team in the country with two players to hold that distinction. If they do not make a splash in the transfer market to replace that production, the Pride may be a team to play against at the beginning of next season. 

 And with Iona hiring Rick Pitino over the weekend, the Gaels are certainly worth following this fall. Pitino has been successful at each of his previous college stops — Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville — and in the Metro Athletic, his presence will dominate the sidelines.

About the Author

James Bunting

James Bunting covers college basketball, baseball and the NFL for Gaming Today. He has worked as a freelance sports writer for several outlets over the last decade, focusing specifically on the sports betting industry in the last five years.

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