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Revised college basketball rules have resulted in ‘crazy,’ volatile totals betting market

Sportsbooks are scrambling to adjust to college basketball’s new foul-friendly rules, producing an erratic market that has seen giant line movements on over/unders.

The total on the Duke-Kansas game opened as low as 149 and closed as high as 159. The total on the Michigan State-Kentucky game opened as low as 140 and closed as high as 147.5.

Ed Salmons, head oddsmaker at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino SuperBook, estimated before the season that he needed to increase his college basketball totals by five percent because of the new rules.

“But it could be more like eight percent,” Salmons acknowledged in an email Wednesday.

Teams averaged 67.5 points last season, the lowest since 1981-82. In response, the NCAA re-emphasized and re-defined rules in the offseason in an attempt to create more offense.

Among the new points of emphasis:

  • Reduce hand-checking
  • Limit how post-defenders are allowed to use their arms
  • Give offensive players the benefit of the doubt on block/charge calls

The rules have produced more fouls, and as a result, there have been higher scoring and longer games.

According to statistician Ken Pomeroy, scoring was up 6.4 percent during the opening weekend of games featuring two Division I teams. There were 14.7 percent more free throws attempted per 40 minutes. (There were 73 fouls called in a Seton Hall-Niagara game.)

Nine teams were averaging more than 100 points as of Wednesday. According to SportsOptions’s line archives, seven games have seen their totals grow by six or more points over the first five days of the season.

It’s not unusual for books to struggle with lines and totals early in the college hoops season. They protect themselves by lowering limits and posting totals later and later and on increasingly fewer games. But this season is particularly dangerous.

“We treat the college totals with kids’ gloves, regardless,” said Nick Bogdanovich, Director of Trading for William Hill US. “But, obviously with the rules changes, it’s like double jeopardy. We’re watching them closely, moving them electrically fast and taking smaller limits.”

Bogdanovich said he won’t hesitate to move totals two or three points at a time until a larger sample of data is available to accurately gauge the impact of the new rules.

“Eventually, it’ll get priced out,” Bogdanovich said. “But this is crazy, right now. You don’t know what you’re up against. This is uncharted territory.”

The market actually might have already caught up. Eight of 14 games on Wednesday stayed under the total. On the season, there have been 43 overs and 37 unders (53.75 percent).

Undefeated Kentucky Prop

William Hill US offered a prop bet on Kentucky going undefeated this season. Bogdanovich opened the Wildcats at 400/1 to run the table. The prop closed at 30/1.

“They just kept betting it and betting it,” Bogdanovich said. “Props are meant for publicity and smaller bets, but we wrote almost $10,000 on this prop, which is more than a normal prop does.”

Kentucky lost, 78-74, to Michigan State in its third game of the season.