How to Bet on College Basketball

How to Bet on College Basketball

While NBA betting and college basketball betting both involve wagering on the same sport, the styles of gameplay and strategies of betting these leagues are quite different. For starters, the scope of college basketball is much more vast; while there are only 30 teams in the NBA, there are 351 division one schools across 32 division one conferences in the NCAA.

With just under 12 times as many teams to cover, sportsbooks are at a much larger disadvantage when creating betting lines for college basketball than they are when creating lines for NBA games. It is extremely rare for a bettor to get the upper hand in knowledge and preparedness over a sportsbook in an NBA game, but in college the astute bettor can take advantage of their knowledge of lesser-known schools and conferences to carve out a nice profit season to season.

Even the most casual sports fans and bettors tend to get into college basketball betting during March Madness. Bracket pools dominate offices around the country and bettors look to back their bracket picks up with wagers. The NCAA Tournament is preceded by conference tournaments which can be just as frantic as March Madness. Each team that wins its conference tournament earns an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, breathing new life into teams that find themselves on the outside of the selection bubble. 

The early stages of the season may not provide the same nail-biting action that the end of the season does, but that doesn’t mean that bettors should overlook it. Quite the contrary; while the rest of the betting public is focused on football and the NBA towards the end of the calendar year, there are dozens of college basketball games taking place every week with many intriguing betting opportunities.

Betting College Basketball Point Spreads

The most popular form of betting on college basketball is with point spreads. The point spread is a points handicap used to make both teams in a game more evenly matched. While against the spread betting is also helpful at the pro level, it is even more necessary at the college level as the skill discrepancies between schools would make many games impossible to bet on the moneyline.

For example, in the early stages of the season, major conference schools often pad their pre-conference schedule with a bunch of soft out-of-conference opponents. It is a common occurrence to see the big school playing at home and going off as a favorite of 20 points or more. A game like this wouldn’t even be offered on the moneyline as it is so clear that the home team will win, but with the road underdog getting +24.5 points on its side, the game suddenly becomes a lot more interesting.

Point spread betting is popular year round, but a great time to incorporate it into your betting strategy is in these early non-conference weeks. In general, depending on how talented the team is or how seriously the coach takes these tune-up games, it isn’t too difficult to find out which top teams are going to destroy the cupcakes on their schedule and which are just going through the motions or having trouble gelling. Similarly, some weak schools are simply no match for the superior opponents they signed up to play and make good against the spread plays, while others that have a great scorer or a strong defensive system will prove themselves worthy of your trust as underdogs with plenty of bite.

Betting College Basketball Moneylines

Sports betting always has an element of unpredictably to it, but this especially true at the college level. These are teams comprised of college kids as opposed to professional athletes; you aren’t always going to get an optimal performance. This can make moneyline betting an attractive alternative to point spread betting in certain spots.

Betting on a favorite against the spread that wins the game but fails to cover is always frustrating. If you love a team to win but are worried about them covering the spread, consider a bet on the moneyline. The premium you pay could be worth it to cover the scenarios that your team wins but doesn’t cover. For example, if Duke is a 3.5-point favorite at home against North Carolina and you are expecting a Duke win, betting the Blue Devils at -165 on the moneyline might be a lot less stressful than having them at -3.5 and -110.

Similarly, big upsets happen all the time in college basketball, especially when a favorite is on the road. If you cap an underdog to win the game outright, try betting it that way instead of taking the points! Or for the more risk averse, split up your bet to include some equity on the moneyline. For example, if you like North Carolina in the game above, instead of betting $110 to win $100 on the Tar Heels at +3.5 -110, you could bet $55 to win $50 on the spread and $50 to win $72.50 on the moneyline at +145. You’d break even if North Carolina covers and fails to win outright but would stand to win an extra $22.50 if the Tar Heels do pull off the upset.

Betting College Basketball Totals

College basketball totals vary greatly from team to team based on each team’s style of play. An offensive-minded team like the Villanova Wildcats will routinely see totals set in the 150’s and 160’s. On the other hand, a defense-first team like the Virginia Cavaliers often has totals set in the 120’s and below.

NBA bettors will recognize these totals as significantly smaller than those in the NBA, which are routinely set above 200 points. The key factors contributing to this are the fact that NCAA games are eight minutes shorter than NBA games (playing two 20-minute halves as opposed to four 12-minute quarters) and the shot clock in college is 30 seconds as opposed to 24.

Strategically, bettors must get to know how each team in college plays and what their optimal path to victory is going to be. Some teams like to smother with defense and use the full shot clock on all of their possessions while others look to make a few quick outlet passes and to jack up some three-pointers. When you cap a game, try to determine which team will set the tempo in the game and bet the OVER or UNDER accordingly.

Betting College Basketball Win Totals

Before the regular season begins, win totals are offered on each team.  For example, the line might be set on the UCLA Bruins at 24.5 regular season wins; a bet on the OVER would cash if the Bruins won 25 or more games while the UNDER would cash if UCLA won 24 games or less.

When offered, these wagers are an excellent long-term option for bettors familiar with specific teams and conferences. Going over the schedule it is usually pretty easy to diagnose the obvious wins and losses on the season; it is the less-obvious games that will make or break a season win total.

Betting College Basketball Parlays and Teasers

One great option for taking advantage of college basketball’s large betting cards is parlay betting. There are no shortage of excellent parlay strategies that college basketball bettors can incorporate into their betting habits.

When you have a handful of favorites that you love, consider parlaying them together to cut down on the chalk of betting on each one. Say that you like the Florida Gators at -300, the Houston Cougars at -275 and the Syracuse Orange at -250 this Saturday. Betting each game separately would be costly and wouldn’t offer much of a payout. But parlaying these three teams together for $100 would actually pay over $150 if all three win. You can also key one big favorite that you love and parlay it with each of your other picks on the day, adding some extra value to your winning picks assuming your favorite comes in.

Another parlay betting strategy is to find sides that are semi-correlated with a certain total. For example, if you like Harvard and the points against a high-scoring team, you will in all likelihood need Harvard’s defense to play well to cover this spread. So instead of just betting on Harvard, you could parlay the Crimson and the UNDER for added value.

For bettors looking for a bit less risk than a standard parlay provides, college basketball teasers are a great option. Bettors can choose a 4-point, 4.5-point or 5-point teaser with up to 10 picks. Each of these picks will have the point amount selected added to its side. So if you decide to include the Oregon Ducks -8, the West Virginia Mountaineers OVER 155 and the Alabama Crimson Tide +4 as your three selections, a 5-point teaser would modify these sides down to Oregon -3, West Virginia OVER 150 and Alabama +9.

Teasers are easier to hit than parlays due to the extra points received, but they also pay less. Pay rates will vary based on how many points and how many sides are selected.