by Evan, College Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com

Spread handicapping has always been the most popular form of wagering on basketball, and the college game is no exception. That said, the world of totals is an intriguing one and one that can be very good to the people that work hard to hone the skill.

Successfully handicapping college basketball totals is a long process that involves unlimited potential variables; I will take a look at the most important factor where many of the lesser stem from: pace.

The identification of a possession in basketball was a revolutionary one in the statistics world and has opened the door for a more accurate way to model the game. The technical term is still misused frequently as a true possession is defined as a teams entire trip down the floor until they no longer control the ball. By this definition, each team will have the same number of possessions in a game; (exceptions are if a team starts and ends a period with possession due to time workings) offensive rebounds do not translate to more possessions, rather longer ones do note this distinction. A trip down the floor involving four shots and three offensive rebounds is one possession. An 8-second violation for failing to cross the time line is one possession. As statistics move toward a per possession model it is important to start using this term accurately.

While you can calculate the exact number of possessions in a game with meticulous work, a generally accepted formula for possessions is such: FGA+(.44*FTA)-ORebs+TOs. Using 0.44 as opposed to 0.50 accounts for three-point play opportunities. I do like being more meticulous at the college level because of the large error the one and one aspect can pose many times only one free throw is attempted despite it still carrying the weight of an entire possession. This is pace and it is the single-most important tool when handicapping a total unfortunately, it is not so easy to determine at times.

When two teams play at a similar pace, it is pretty easy to get a decent estimate at how fast or slow the game will be played at. It is not automatic, but certainly easier. When they do not, you have to determine how each teams style will play with the others.

One way you can do this is with math. I am not going to spend much time at all talking about regression analysis because, as of now, its a secondary form of handicapping for me. Programs such as Minitab (which I highly recommend) can provide amazing data if you keep up-to-date information and choose to run regression analysis. In order to really be successful doing this you have to have good knowledge of statistics and how to read a trend. I would rather stay away from the math for now and continue to talk about a practical brand of handicapping.

Personally, I am more of an observational handicapper. I will use eye test knowledge and analyze how fast a game will be played based on venue, player matchups and situational factors. Generally speaking, the home team will try to control the pace. This is far from a rule, though. This is something you learn from watching a team over a significant time frame. If you are trying to find a middle ground between two teams pace, be sure to take a look at how the home team will try to dictate in a venue they are comfortable in and will feed off of.

Player matchups command a large portion of what factors into pace too. Analyze the matchup, watch coachs pressers and determine what matchups a team is going to try and exploit in order to win the game. There are very specific situations where a team is going to look to run and use their athleticism to take advantage of a slower team and others where teams want to make their opponent play defense for long stretches of time. Knowing exactlyhowa team wants to attack its opponent is a huge indication of how many possessions there will be in a game.

Then there are situational factors. This is HUGE at the college level. I cannot stress this enough, I really cant. Fouling at the end of the game has potential to be the single most frustrating aspect of handicapping sports in my opinion. The heartbreak you can suffer by teams refusing to waive the white flag and continuing to foul to push a game over is what makes sports handicapping nearly impossible to cope with at times.

So how do you handicap this part of the game? This is a science that you can never and will never be deadly accurate with. You simply have to acknowledge it and plan for it. First, speculate on the competitiveness of a game. A close game that involves fouling from one side and quick layups for the last 90 seconds of a game can add as much as 20 points to a total. Try your best to determine if the matchup will be close or whether it will be a blowout with teams dribbling 35 seconds off the clock for the final possessions of the game. Most importantly, the reason I am careful to use the word acknowledge is because you just have to accept the ridiculousness sometimes. Betting totals will break your heart very often. You have to trust the universe and that it will randomly benefit you as often as it randomly hurts you. If you are truly on the right side of a number the truth will come out in the long run its the beauty of probability.

A secondary reason to account for competitiveness of a game is the possibility of overtime. This is not as big, yet still existent. In a matchup where overtime is quite conceivable, I will typically cap my total a point or so higher. If you wager enough totals, the distinct possibility of overtime will manifest and you will be happy you accounted for it.

The analysis of pace is the first step toward being a good totals handicapper. Sharpen this part of your game and doors will open for you to be able to properly utilize per possession statistics, efficiency numbers and more. It may be just the first step in arriving at a projected total, but read the pace wrong and you will never beat the 52.38% break-even number. Get off on the right footing and reap the benefits at the end of the journey.

Note: You can lower your break-even number to 51.19% by betting on games at -105 reduced odds at 5Dimes.