Hot Hands Are Partly A Myth – Adjust Your March Madness Bets Accordingly

February 15, 2021by Christopher Gerlacher0
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Hot Hands Are Partly A Myth – Adjust Your March Madness Bets Accordingly

Hot Hands Are Partly A Myth – Adjust Your March Madness Bets Accordingly: Steph Curry vs. Jeff Green - Golden State Warriors vs. Orlando Magic

Once March Madness is in full swing, commentators everywhere will be watching for players who end up on a hot streak. Every basketball fan recognizes the “hot hand” when they see it. One play just shoots basket after basket after basket in an unstoppable streak. But earth-shattering research from 1985 not only seemed to debunk the idea of hot hands. It even gave the “hot hand fallacy” its own name. It seemed like the hot hand was an accident of statistics and our slowly evolving minds.

However, the hot hand is sometimes true. It’s not during field goals and it’s not true for gamblers. But bettors with prop bets on players and their free throws should pay attention.

What Is The Hot Hand?

The hot hand is a streak of baskets that makes a player seem exceptionally lucky. To anyone watching, every basket a player with a hot hand makes seems to make the next one easier. Players, coaches, and commentators swear by it, despite credible evidence of it being a fallacy.

An influential 1985 study found no relationship between previous shots and the chance of making the next one. We’re pattern-seeking mammals. Consequently, when we see a pattern, we latch onto it. When we see several successful shots in a row, we think it has some bearing on the next shot. Since that player has made so many successful shots in a row, the next one must be more likely. But the 1985 study ripped that illusion apart. It identifies a mental shortcut we take and writes the hot hand off.

However, recent research has challenged the 1985 study that brushed the hot hand off.

The Hot Hand Is Sometimes Real

A newer study sampled over 500,000 free throws and over 2,000,000 field goals. (In comparison, the 1985 study used the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics, and a controlled study among Cornell basketball players to invalidate the hot hand.) The new study didn’t disprove everything in the 1985 study. It’s far from the death blow that readers will likely hope it is. However, it undermines it in one area: free throws.

The new study found that, in controlled settings like free throws, players had a real hot hand. Every successful free throw increased the chances of another successful free throw. There’s no magic to it. It can be attributed to muscle memory through doing the same action repeatedly.

However, the hot hand doesn’t exist on the open court. Each successful field goal decreased the chances of the next shot being successful. That’s because other players and coaches act like the hot hand is real on the court. Offense and defense alike target the “hot” player even though it’s not noticeable outside a controlled setting. You know, times when the only variable is the player’s skill and not becoming the focus of both teams.

How Hot Hands Affect Sports Bettors

The two things to know for bettors with wagers dependent on baskets made by individual players:

  • Hot hands have only been shown to exist in free throws.
  • If you think you see hot hands on the court, you don’t. Eight three-pointers in a row don’t make the ninth more likely.

That may irritate some bettors, players, coaches, and other writers. But the odds of successive free throws are likely better than successive field goals in basketball. Keep that in mind if you’re the type of person who places props on individual player performances.

One Last Tip

Sports bettors are as superstitious as any other sports fan. However, sports bettors have two related mistakes to avoid:

  • Thinking that a winning streak will make the next bet more likely to continue the streak.
  • Thinking that a winning streak will make the next bet more likely to end the streak.

The same is true for losing streaks, too. But the mistake is thinking that a streak has any impact on the next bet. It doesn’t. They’re independent.

However, bettors often act like a streak influences the next bet. So, someone on a winning streak might make less risky bets to keep the streak from ending. Conversely, a bettor on a losing streak might make more risky bets to win big and recoup losses. That can create winning or losing streaks for bettors, but it’s because of their own behaviors, not some magic in the wagers they made.

All The Advice In A Nutshell

So, as March Madness approaches, keep your head in the game. Don’t try to see a hot hand where there isn’t one. You can believe in it for free throws, but not field goals. But don’t fall for the sports bettor’s equivalent of a hot hand. If you get a bunch of wins or losses in a row, your next bet isn’t more or less likely to be a loss. Unless you pick a riskier or more conservative bet, your odds of winning and losing are the same as they would’ve been regardless of how your previous bets paid out.

Finally, if you need a refresher, hit our Gambling 101 guides to brush up on basic strategies. We can’t offer you a miracle hack. But we can arm you with the strategies to give you the best chance at a successful March Madness season.

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