College basketball can be a wildly overwhelming sport to bet. There can be upwards of 160 games on a college hoops card for Saturdays. There are over 350 Division I college basketball teams and all conferences are regularly lined. That wasn’t the case just a few years ago, but now you can bet on whichever teams and conferences you want.
One very strong recommendation we can give you here at ATS is to focus on certain conferences. Maybe focus on conferences that are in your geographic area or that you have a particular interest in. Don’t try to handicap 350 teams when you can be an expert on 40-50 teams.
It is also important to know what the different bet types are for college basketball so that you can make informed wagers. These are all very similar to the NBA, with a couple notable exceptions. The first is that college is two halves instead of four quarters. The next is that the gaps between college basketball teams vary greatly, so you will see larger spreads and bigger money lines because there are some big lines, especially during non-conference play.
With that, let’s survey the college basketball bet types and shed some light on what they mean.
The most popular form of college basketball betting is spread betting. The spread is a handicap placed on each team designed to level the playing field from a wagering standpoint.
If it was as simple as picking a winner between Duke and Elon, everybody would be able to do it. Instead, a spread is placed on the game in an attempt to balance out the two teams and also balance the action as much as possible on the game. For example, Duke might be a 26-point favorite against Elon, denoted as -26. Elon would be +26 and the “underdog” in this scenario. Duke is the “favorite”.
Instead of just obviously deciding that Duke will beat Elon, you have to decide if Duke will beat Elon by 27 or more points. In order to determine which team “covered the spread”, you would add or subtract the points to the side that you bet. If Duke wins 80-50 and you have Duke -26, you would subtract 26 points from Duke’s total and see that they would still win 54-50. Therefore, Duke covered.
If Duke wins 70-50 and you bet Duke -26, you would subtract 26 points and see that they would lose 50-44. That means that Elon covered the spread.
The same thought process applies to Elon +26. If you add 26 points to Elon’s final point total, would they win the game? That is how you determine the spread winner.
Spreads also have vigorish or “vig” or “juice” on them. The industry standard for spread betting is -110, which means that you have to bet $11 to win $10. It is a way that sportsbooks create a House Edge and they also use the vig to balance action.
Sportsbooks will move the vig to -115 or -120 in lieu of moving the spread itself from time to time, so that is something you want to keep in mind as well. At -115, that would mean betting $15 to win $10.
The money line is a bet in which you simply pick the winner of the game. The concept is simple, but the process has a bit more to it than meets the eye. While all you have to do is pick the winner, the vigorish acts like a spread in this context. It isn’t as easy as betting the winner at -110. Far from it.
The money line will have increased vigorish on the favorite and bigger plus money prices on the underdog. For example, Duke in the -26 scenario might be too big of a favorite to even have a money line price listed. Some favorites might be as high as -1000, which means betting $100 to win $10 or $1000 to win $100. Other favorites might be -250, which means betting $25 to win $10.
Of course, the flip side of that equation is that a -1000 favorite would probably have a +600 or +700 underdog, so you can bet $10 to win $60 or $10 to win $70. Instead of getting a points handicap, though, you need that team to win the game outright in upset fashion.
Money lines are a risk-reward proposition. Low-risk low-reward and high-risk, high-reward for the most part.
Just like every other sport, totals betting is offered and is quite popular for college basketball. Totals odds are also wildly different in college basketball because teams around the country play at all sorts of different paces. Totals could range from as low as 100 to as high as 180 based on the conference and the team.
Also known as over/under betting, totals betting means adding together the scores of both teams and comparing them to the line. A total might be 156 and the game might end 80-75. That would be an under because 155 is lower than 156. If two free throws are made at the end and the game ends 80-77, the game would go over the total with 157 points.
You can bet over or under and both sides will have vig, generally -110, but sportsbooks can move the vig around on these as well.
Some people like to bet college basketball parlays. A popular version of this is to bet multiple money line favorites. No matter what you decide to put in your parlay, you need to get each individual bet correctly for your parlay to pay out. Any incorrect picks on your parlay ticket will wipe out the entire thing, which is why parlays have increased odds. They are harder to win.
The odds of each individual bet will remain the same, but the parlay ticket itself will have increased odds because you have no margin for error. You have to get everything right.
A parlay ticket must feature at least two bets and can feature generally up to 15 bets, with spreads, totals, and money lines all as options. Some sportsbooks will even let you add derivative bets and props to the parlay ticket.
College basketball teasers are a terrible idea, but we’ll mention them so that you know what they are and what makes them bad. Like the NBA, you can add or subtract points to the side or total that you are betting in order to get better odds. Teasers, like parlays, require multiple bets on one ticket.
Teasers for basketball are typically 4, 4.5, 5, or 5.5-point teasers, but some sportsbooks may have other options available.
Derivative betting simply means betting smaller segments of the game. In the case of college basketball, that means the 1st half or 2nd half. Some people like to bet the first team to 10 or 15 points.
The favorite for the game will also be the 1st half favorite. Furthermore, totals for the 1st half will be slightly less than half of the full game because there is a correlation between the two, but the expectation of fouls in the 2nd half leaves more on the back end.
Rest and other factors, like readiness and past performance, will factor into the handicap.
Basketball is an excellent sport for live betting and college basketball especially. In college basketball, foul trouble can mean a ton. Regression to the mean can be a big factor. Teams will start hot and then bog down and struggle or start slowly and then get going. There seems to be a lot of variance within the game in college hoops.
As a result, you can place live betting wagers on things like the spread, total, and money line as the game is going on. Whether you are watching or following the box score, you can use the information that you see and hear to make a more informed wager now that you have a point of reference.
Prop betting is limited in college basketball because of the sheer number of games and teams that bookmakers are trying to follow, but signature games may have prop betting options like over/under points for star players.