Duke’s Ridiculous Spread Cover Comes as NO Surprise

By Warren Sharp

In case you missed it last night, Duke, the #1 seed from the South region, was favored to win by 5 points over Utah.  With Utah trailing by 5 with under five seconds left, Duke in-bounded the ball and Utah converged, tying up the ball for an (otherwise) obvious jump ball.  But the refs did not call it.  As the game’s final horn was sounding, a Utah player grabbed and held the arm of Duke’s Quinn Cook.  But the referees appeared to already rule the game final.

The coaches met at mid court to shake hands, most of the players already left the court, and CBS showed the game was final.  A 5 point win for the Blue Devils of Duke, and anyone holding a +5 ticket on the Utah Utes received their money back as the final score “pushed”.


Except it didn’t.  In a seemingly trivial move for non-bettors, the referees forced the teams to return to the court, and put under 1 second on the clock and gave Duke two free throws (because they were in the double bonus).  Cook missed the first one (so being in the double bonus was huge) but made the second, and Duke won by 6 points instead of 5.  Whether Duke shot free throws or not, advancing to the Elite 8 was not in jeopardy.  The only thing the free throws decided was who would cover the game for the sportsbooks and sports bettors.

The move to return players to the court for extra Duke free throws to seal a Duke cover sent ripples through the sports betting community.  Smaller public bettors rejoiced, as the majority of the public bet Duke.  But the larger, bigger money was backing the Utes, forcing the line down from an open of Utah +5.5 to Utah+4.5.  According to ESPN’s David Purdum, that extra free throw Duke made caused a million dollar swing at just one sportsbook alone.  And if you talk to the majority of those seasoned bettors who were on the Utes, the calls throughout the game as well as in that final tenth of a second came as no surprise.

That’s because the number of times Duke’s basketball team has seen lopsided majority of calls in their favor which often result in getting suspicious ATS covers are “too many to recap” according to seasoned bettor Alan Boston.  Others echoed similar sentiments, including Stuckey, who said “I’ve been watching Duke get those calls for the last 20+ years.”

And they’re exactly right.  But they might even underestimate how right they are.  I have NFL spread databases going back over 25 years, but I only have college basketball since 2006.  In that span, NO TEAM has covered more close games than Duke.

The below charts show that whether the game’s ATS outcome was decided by less than 3 or less than 2 points, Duke seems to have the best “luck” with late calls, late buckets, and everything else to seal covers at a ridiculous rate.  Keep in mind, this data is only since 2006.  Duke’s best stretch was in the 90s, when they won multiple national titles.  I imagine the percentages for Duke (if the sample size were expanded) would be somewhat similar, but the rest of the teams would drop back closer to the median 50% range, making Duke’s results that much more astounding.

Out of almost 250 schools who have played in at least 10 games decided on the spread by less than 2 points in the heat of the NCAA season (from Jan 1 onward), Duke has covered almost 80% (15-4-7).  Remember, these are games where the cover is decided by less than one 2-point basket.  On average, of course, teams sit at 50%.  Duke is almost 30% points better than average. 

The first chart lists these games decided by less than 2 points on the spread.  The second chart lists games decided by less than 3 points on the spread.  If anyone has NCAA basketball cover data dating back to 1990 on all teams and wants to perform a similar exercise, I’d be interested to see the results.  Also, focus at the very bottom of each chart, where you’ll (conveniently) find Duke’s nemesis, the Tarheels of North Carolina, who have been on the wrong end of an insane number of close ATS games.

(click to enlarge)

More from Warren:


2015 Compensatory Draft Picks Help Bengals & Patriots

Every year, 32 additional (compensatory) draft picks are doled out behind closed doors at the NFL owners meetings.  According to the rules, a secret formula is used to allocate them, and they are allocated under the following guidelines:

A team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks. The number of picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents up to a maximum of four.  The earliest selection is at the end of the 3rd round.

As you’ll see more and more, the real way to look at draft picks is not by total volume, but by the value of the picks.  I like to use the draft points model created by the guys at Football Perspective.  As such, here’s the value of those 32 picks:

As you can see, while the Bengals received just two selections, both were in the earliest two rounds possible.  Meanwhile, the Ravens have 3 new picks, all in the earliest two rounds possible.  And the defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots actually have the highest overall compensatory selection that was issued, the 97th pick of the 3rd round.  So while you’ll hear that the Chiefs, Broncos and Seahawks were the winners or the “leaders”, the fact is, these other teams I mentioned received better value.

For some perspective, only 3 teams received selections at the end of the 3rd round (NE, KC and CIN), picks 97, 98 and 99 overall.  Notable players chosen in these spots the last few years?

  • SEA LB K.J. Wright
  • CAR DL Sione Fua
  • MIA RB Lamar Miller
  • KC LB Nico Johnson
  • HOU OL Ben Jones
  • GB TE Richard Rodgers

And some of the standout performers in these spots since 2000:

  • DE Shaun Phillips
  • DE Ray McDonald
  • DB Thomas DeCoud
  • TE Owen Daniels
  • G Roberto Garza
  • LB Na’il Diggs
  • LB LeRoy Hill
  • DB Dominique Foxworth

So for the Patriots, Chiefs and Bengals to land these picks is very strong.  The past 5 years, there have been just 6 total 3rd round compensatory selections.  Which shows the value of these picks.

Another interesting trivia tidbit:  Prior to the Patriots getting one this year, only once since 2003 has a defending Super Bowl Champion been awarded a 3rd round compensatory selection.  While the picks are given based on 2014 free agents lost (before the 2014 season), its still a boon to the Patriots to get one for the 2015 draft, and it rarely happens.


The Sweet 16 Teams vs Top-25 KenPom Opponents

Here is an infographic look at the most recent meeting vs top 25 KenPom opponents and the total number of top 25 KenPom opponents faced in 2015 for the 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament.  It will be over 90 days until Kentucky plays a top 25 opponent, as WVU ranked 26th in the current rankings, but should they advance to play in the Elite 8 on Saturday, both Wichita State and Notre Dame (their Elite 8 opponents) ranked top 10.