The NFL has become a high-scoring league thanks to passing games taking on a bigger role. However, the defensively-elite Seahawks reached the Super Bowl twice in the last three seasons, and the top two defenses in the league squared off in Super Bowl 50.
Like football, college basketball is seeing a surge in offense, thanks in large part to several rule changes aimed at increasing scoring. The number of teams playing strong defense is lagging, but those squads have become increasingly valuable for bettors.
Seven college basketball teams are allowing under 61 points per game this season. Each of them has won 20 games and they are 153-37, cumulatively. Those seven squads have combined to go 95-68-5 against the spread. Not surprisingly, major conference teams that play good defense, like Louisville and Virginia, are well known to handicappers and only around .500 against the number. However, small schools that defend well are crushing the number.
Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans
The leaders of the Sun Belt Conference are 24-3 straight up and 16-7 against the spread. They allow an NCAA-best 58.4 points per game and are holding opponents to under 38-percent shooting this year, fifth best in the nation. The Trojans have covered six of their last seven games. In addition to great defense, the Trojans rarely turn the ball over, a very good recipe for keeping opponents in half court offense and limiting points allowed. It is a formula that has led to a lot of victories and happy bettors.
Wichita State Shockers
Coach Gregg Marshall’s best teams at Winthrop were always defensive minded. His mantra continued to be defense and rebounding when he took up residence with the Shockers, but recent teams have had an ability to score, too. This year, Marshall dealt with injuries early on and got back to his stingy ways. His squad is fourth in the country in points against per game (59.9) and number one in turnover margin, which leads to a lot of easy buckets. The Shockers are 20-7 overall and 16-9 against the spread. They have covered 11 of their last 13 games and Marshall’s teams have consistently played their best ball on the biggest stage.
St. Mary’s Gaels
Like Marshall, the Gaels’ Randy Bennett has a track record of success. Following Saturday’s win at Gonzaga, it is St. Mary’s, not Gonzaga, who controls its own destiny in the West Coast Conference. St. Mary’s is 22-4 this season and 14-9 for betting purposes. Early in the season, they split games with Pac-12 giants Stanford and Cal, but covered against both. The Gaels are fifth in the country, yielding just 60.2 points a game. They’re also incredibly efficient on offense, shooting an NCAA-best 51-percent for the year. That is a winning combination.
(Photo credit: TonyTheTiger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)