The San Diego State Aztecs are one of three teams making their first appearance in the Final Four this year. The Aztecs are without a doubt one of the biggest surprises of the entire March Madness tournament. But perhaps the most notable thing is how they have made any game involving them an automatic under.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Aztecs got here, the frequency of their games finishing under the total points, and whether we should expect that trend to continue in the Final Four and possibly beyond.
How they got here
Entering the NCAA Tournament, San Diego State quietly had one of the best defences in the country. As it stands, the Aztecs are ranked fourth in defence according to KenPom and it has become apparent how they earned that high ranking in each of their tournament games.
No one thought much when they defeated 12-seed Charleston in the Round of 64. They gained a little recognition for ending 13-seed Furman’s surprise run in the Round of 32, though. Then the Aztecs made it into the minds of the masses with a stunning win over one-seed Alabama in the Sweet 16, locking down one of the most dynamic teams in the nation.
The Elite Eight matchup with Creighton was slightly different but not for the reason you may think. The defence remained on lock, holding Creighton to just 56 points. As a matter of fact, of the four opponents they have faced, only Alabama managed more than 60 (finishing with 64 points).
Much of the in-game drama around SDSU so far this tournament had to do with the ending of the Creighton-SDSU game. With just a few seconds to go and the game tied at 56, Darrion Trammell had the game at his fingertips. But just as he launched a shot that looked like it was going to miss, a whistle was blown.
A controversial call put Trammell at the line. He missed the first free throw, but nailed the second, sending San Diego State to the Final Four with a 57-56 win. Controversy aside, each game has come down to San Diego State’s ability to lock down its opposition. Creighton shot just 40% from the field in a game where even a slightly more effective offensive performance could have been enough.
The under machine
From a betting perspective, a lot of the talk about San Diego State has been on its tournament-long siege against over bettors. The first round of the tournament got recognition for how many games wound up coming in under the set total. But San Diego State has taken that first round and carried it with them throughout the tournament.
If we go back to the regular season, the Aztecs have hit the under in an incredible 12 straight games. Go back further and that total is 14 out their last 15, and 16 of their last 19. All three of their Conference-USA tournament games finished under the total, as have each of their four NCAA tournament wins.
Perhaps even more incredible is that these games are coming in significantly under in many cases. Against Charleston, the two sides managed just 120 points, falling 22 shy of the set total. Against Furman, the two managed 127, falling well short of the 135 over/under. The Alabama game was 137.5 — largely because of an expected offensive onslaught from Alabama — but the game fell well short at 115. Finally, the Creighton over/under of 134.5 was never even threatened, with both sides totaling just 113.
Betting the under on San Diego State games has given bettors some stability in one of the most unpredictable March Madness tournaments we’ve ever seen. With upsets happening left and right, something so reliable is as coveted as it is rare.
The Aztecs’ lockdown defence has been a great recipe for hitting the under. Indeed, the San Diego State offence has only combined for more than 120 points in one of their four tournament games. Against a FAU outfit that has shown a lot of adaptability, there’s no telling whether things will keep going the way they’ve been going, but there will be plenty of bettors hoping to ride the momentum and hammer the under on the 131.5-point total on Saturday. The total actually opened at 132.5 points at bet365 last Sunday, but that number has been bet down to 131.5 points as of Tuesday afternoon.
Betting on underdogs and the under throughout the tournament has been an extremely profitable strategy.
Why so many unders?
Against a tough Creighton team, San Diego held the opposition to just 40% shooting. Against a dominant Alabama outfit, that number was just 32.4%, including a measly 11.1% from three. When tasked with the Furman outfit that shocked Virginia, the Aztecs not only held the Paladins to 23% from the field, but nearly doubled them up on the glass, 41-24. The same held true against a Charleston team that had the ability to hit from deep.
The theme has been simple. The Aztecs, when they are at the top of their game, are one of the best defensive teams around, and have routinely smothered the other team’s offence. They have been especially locked in during the NCAA Tournament, making life as difficult as possible for each successive opponent.
What is even more impressive is that the Aztecs have been so dominant that it doesn’t matter who they face. Alabama had one of the top-ranked offences in the nation, but San Diego State completely locked the Crimson Tide down, keeping them under 65 points. When they go up against less-than-stellar offences, the results have only been worse for the opposition.
Will it continue in the Final Four?
Though there is no such thing as a safe bet in this tournament, San Diego State’s under trend has been the closest thing.
Keep in mind that FAU, playing in its first Final Four game, has also been able to play some very effective defence so far. The Owls held Tennessee to just 35% from the field in their Sweet 16 win against the Volunteers. They were less-than-perfect against Kansas State, but still kept them quiet enough to earn a win against one of the better offences in the tournament.
There is another stat of interest when it comes to this matchup. Entering the Kansas State game, FAU was getting just over 37% of its points from threes, according to KenPom. Given the ability of San Diego State to shut down the outside shots, FAU may have even more difficulty creating points.
Expect FAU to adapt and match San Diego State defensively in the Final Four. With the over/under set at 131.5, the smart money will likely be on the under once again. San Diego State will likely force the action inside and attempt to dominate the glass as it has done throughout the tournament. In the end, it means that the SDSU-FAU under is likely among the safest picks in the Final Four.