How to Bet a Basketball Total
Welcome to Model Talk with Dan Angell, where he peels back the curtain to provide insightful analysis into how he builds his models, sifts through the data, and finds his readers the ultimate edge.
HOW TO BET A BASKETBALL TOTAL – On Saturday morning’s radio show, Jack made an off-hand comment about how much difficulty he has hitting totals. And that gave me a great idea for a piece: how do you bet a basketball total?
I’ve thrown out a few memorable total bets that have cashed at absurd numbers, such as Charlotte-North Texas having a total of 119 and cashing by 19 points. At this point, I’ve got a pretty decent foundation for knowing how to bet a basketball total. Plenty of factors go into finding good value on a total, and these are some of my favorites.
Pay Attention to the Pace of Play
In the metrics era, there’s no reason not to know how fast or how slow a team likes to play. Experts like Ken Pomeroy and Erik Haslam do an incredible job tracking how each team treats the tempo of the game, which helps you figure out where your number should be.
Alabama, for example, loves to run. The Crimson Tide puts up a boatload of points because they shoot so quickly. When you get an Alabama game, you know that the total’s likely to reach 160 points or more because each possession will only take about 15 seconds. When teams aren’t using the shot clock, the numbers will soar.
Virginia’s at the other end of the spectrum. The Cavaliers never push the tempo unless they’re trailing late, and they pride themselves on denying good shots. In the early parts of the season, when the Cavaliers play their big games, you’ll see their opponents put up some embarrassing offensive numbers.
In 2023, eight different UVA opponents put up 55 points or less against the Cavaliers, topped by Texas Southern’s 33. The faster a team plays, the higher the number is likely to get.
Free Throws Can Ruin or Rescue Totals
Nothing helps an OVER more than points with the clock stopped. Nothing’s worse for an UNDER, except for overtime. Knowing how a team shoots free throws and how often it gets to the line can make a big difference with your total bets.
At the small school level, High Point is one of my favorite over bets. Why? The Panthers get to the free throw line a lot. They’re excellent free throw shooters and they foul a lot. It takes a lot for High Point to fall short of a total, because there’s going to be plenty of opportunities in its games to score with a stopped clock.
Army is the opposite. The Black Knights rarely visit the free throw line, and when they do, they miss about as often as they make it. Even though Army takes a lot of 3-pointers, it doesn’t matter: it’s hard to get above 60 points when you only score with the clock running.
Location Dictates Flow
In many cases, the home team’s style will dictate how the game is played. They’re the more comfortable squad, they’re playing in front of their fans and they know how the rims play.
One of my favorite phrases involves Rutgers basketball: Piscataway is where offense goes to die. What I mean by that is that Rutgers home games usually dip to extreme lows because the Scarlet Knights are such a defense-oriented team. When Rutgers plays at Jersey Mike’s Arena, it knows what spots to guide the opponent away from. It can defend certain areas and force its foes to take either contested shots or open looks from bad angles.
Neither of those are ideal for high totals. Throw in Rutgers’ poor offense, and it’s easy to see why the Scarlet Knights usually don’t crack 130 without overtime.
The obvious foil to Rutgers is Iowa. Games in Iowa City routinely flirt with 160 points or more because the Hawkeyes never stop scoring. In the fall of 2023, Iowa played eight games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes cracked 100 points four times, and their lowest total was 80. At that point, the opponent has two choices: adjust its speed or get blown out.
Where Do the Points Come From?
Totals are all about a team’s personality. Knowing where the points come from is key information for solving how to bet a basketball total.
Last year’s Texas A&M team was a great example. The Aggies built their team around free throws and offensive rebounds. If they didn’t get those things, they weren’t going to score. A team that could keep them off the glass and off the line (i.e., Penn State) could hold their score down with ease.
In essence, knowing how to bet a basketball total comes down to four questions:
- What does Team A do well?
- How does that mesh with Team B’s strengths and weaknesses?
- What’s the pace of the game going to be?
- How many fouls will be called?
If you’ve got those four things down, you’ve got a big edge on basketball totals.