Low over/under lines are not uncommon at this stage of the NCAA’s March Madness tournament. Teams are playing to protect leads rather than pull away from their opponent. You will see more offenses burn through most of the 35-second shot block earlier, once they build a significant lead, in hopes controlling posssession time limits the scoring opportunities of their rivals.
This approach doesn’t always work, but it makes sense. And it’s in large part why this line is below 140. Looking at Gonzaga specifically, the average total score of their games throughout the tournament is 131.3. And that’s with their 83-point detonation against Xavier in the Elite Eight accounted for. If this game becomes a slog, it’s what Gonzaga wants. They are first in the country in points allowed per 100 possessions—a ridiculously hard mark to sustain.
But South Carolina is right there with them. They are now fourth in the nation in points allowed per 100 possessions, an equally impressive standing when they’re so much more reliant on their defense than Gonzaga. The average score of their four tournament games thus far is 150.5, but they haven’t actually eclipsed that tally since the Round of 32.
In other words, this game is fated to become a long, grueling grind. And while it’s tempting to roll with Gonzaga, who is clearly the favorite squad, investing in seven-point(ish) spreads when the final score figures to dip below 140 is really tough. Only two of Gonzaga’s victories, after all, have come by this margin, both of which saw them face teams with far more inferior defenses.
The Pick: South Carolina (+6.5), Gonzaga
North Carolina (-5) vs. Oregon (+5)
This is a pretty generous over/under. Going below 155 essentially banks on North Carolina once again bending to their opponent’s preferred style of play, as they did against Kentucky in the Elite Eight.
Still the average total score in North Carolina’s games thus far is 156. And Oregon hasn’t shown the same level of stinginess Kentucky did entering their matchup with the Tar Heels.
At the time, the final scores of Wildcats games were dipping below 150. Lo and behold, they and the Tar Heels failed to crack 150. Entering the Final Four, the Ducks are, on average, posting totals north of 146. To say this game will fall to the under is to say they’re better suited to displace North Carolina from their comfort zone than the Wildcats. And that’s just not true.
If the Tar Heels’ offense was going to stagnate, it would have been against Kentucky. And they still managed to hang 75 points on the board. Their shoddy defense should let up at least as much to an Oregon squad that’s better equipped than the Wildcats to detonate, and if this game turns into a shootout, it won’t even be a contest. North Carolina is averaging noticeably more points per 100 possessions than Oregon.
For the sake of covering all bases, though, let’s say the Ducks win the battle of stylistic preferences. They force the Tar Heels to play their game. Should we really doubt UNC then? When they already showed they can grind enough in slower-paced, lower-scoring affairs during their win over Kentucky?
No. No, we shouldn’t. So even if you aren’t sure what to do about the over/under because Oregon’s defense scares you, the spread pick doesn’t change.