College basketball players might not be professional, but the stakes are definitely high. Every year, millions of people across the world tune in to watch the NCAA Tournament, and hundreds of thousands of fans attend games throughout the course of the regular season. Coaches are paid millions of dollars to put a winning team on the court that their schools can be proud of, not to mention develop elite young talent for the NBA.
A lot of college basketball’s popularity is due to gambling, as well. No sport in North America features more games in a season than the NCAA, and sports bettors absolutely love the all-you-can-eat buffet of hardcourt betting action from November to April.
In this article, we’ll explain what you need to know about betting NCAA basketball, give you more info on the top programs, dive into the history of college basketball, and more.
Never tried betting on NCAA basketball? You’re missing out big-time.
Here are 3 huge reasons to wager on college basketball this season.
Just like any sport, college basketball is a lot more fun to watch when you’ve got some money riding on the outcome. And with more than 100 games on the schedule every Saturday during the college basketball year and tons of games on weeknights as well, there’ll be no shortage of NCAA hoops to wager on!
If you are willing to do a little research, you can make some good money betting NCAA basketball. Since these players aren’t covered as heavily as the pros (especially teams that play in smaller conferences), you might be able to take advantage of injury or matchup information that the oddsmakers aren’t aware of. Besides, with so many games to post odds for on most nights in the college basketball season, it’s impossible for the betting sites to have sharp numbers for every single game.
The college basketball season is a long one, with teams playing as many as 40 games before they even get to the NCAA Tournament. A lot of those early-season games are non-conference contests that don’t really matter in the overall scheme of things, other than for teams looking to build up a strength of schedule for March Madness or getting ranked in the AP Top 25. By betting on the action, at least you’ve got more reason to care about those games that might not otherwise mean that much.
There are important things that you should look for in any betting site you join, such as a strong history of paying winning players, good bonus offers, and deposit/withdrawal options that fit your needs.
But there are also things you’ll want a gambling site to have if you’re specifically joining for college basketball or have plans to bet on a lot of NCAA basketball games. Here are just a few.
Not all betting sites are created equal. Some will inflate the odds on popular teams in order to make it more difficult for them to cover spreads. Others will charge a bit more on juice (the amount you have to risk on every wager).
Make sure whichever betting site you join tends to offer really good odds on college basketball. 5Dimes, for example, offers -105 juice instead of -110 on a lot of NCAA basketball games. Meanwhile, BetOnline posts betting odds the day before games are scheduled, allowing you to take advantage of soft opening numbers that the pros haven’t pounced on yet.
Live betting (which we’ll get into more in the next section) is a really popular way to bet on college basketball. Check out a few sites to see how many games they’re offering live betting for on any given night. You’ll want to make sure that you have the option to live bet as many games as possible.
Pretty much any betting site will post point spreads and over/unders for any college basketball game. But not all of them will always have futures odds (another thing we’ll discuss further below) available at all times, which is always a nice thing to have in an NCAA betting site.
Props are also a fun way to bet on college basketball that aren’t offered on every site. If you like betting on things like which team will score 20 points the fastest, we recommend joining a site like Bovada, since they usually have the most props and exotic bets among the top betting sites out there.
Betting on college basketball is often quite different from betting on the NBA. The differences between strong teams and weak squads can be much more extreme at the collegiate level, so you sometimes need to be pretty creative in order to find your best betting value.
Fortunately, online betting sites offer a multitude of ways to wager on college basketball. Here’s a look at some of the most common ones.
The moneyline is when you simply bet on which team will win the game. You’ll have to risk more to win less on a favorite, but you can win a lot more than you risk if you take the underdog.
Moneylines in college basketball can be a good option when you like the underdog to pull off the outright upset, which actually happens quite a bit when the underdog is at home. However, there are also a lot of big mismatches in NCAA basketball where the favorite is almost guaranteed to win. In some cases, you might have to risk $20 or more for every $1 you hope to win on the favorite, making the moneyline a far less attractive way to bet.
The point spread is a handicap applied by the oddsmaker in an effort to balance the betting action on both teams. The favorite will have to win the game by more points than the point spread in order to “cover the spread,” while the underdog will cover the spread as long as they don’t lose the game by more points than the spread.
Both sides of a point spread pay close to even money (generally -110, although the juice on either side can vary), making it a great way to bet on college basketball. For example, instead of having to lay $20 to win $1 on a big favorite, you might be able to take the favorite -14.5 on the point spread instead. As long as the favorite wins by 15 points or more, you’ll practically double your money. You can also feel more confident in betting on big underdogs since they no longer have to win the game outright in order to cash your wager. All they have to do is keep the final score within the point spread.
By betting the over/under of a game, you are wagering on whether more points (over) will be scored than the total posted by the oddsmaker or fewer points (under).
Points can come fast and furiously in college basketball, where many games are played at a rapid pace. In cases like this, you will want to consider the over, knowing the potential for both teams to light up the scoreboard. But there will also be games when two teams with strong defenses are involved, and the first thing you’ll want to look at is the under.
Don’t forget that the oddsmaker also sets the total based on the styles and strengths of each team. So, when two high-scoring teams get together, the over/under will be set much higher than when a defensive battle is anticipated.
A problem with betting big favorites on the point spread in college basketball is that they might not be motivated to run up the score in the second half after they’ve built a comfortable lead. It’s also common to see underdogs keep things tight in the early going, only to fall apart down the stretch and have to foul in the dying minutes, leading to easy baskets for the favorite.
In either case, you may want to consider betting on the first half instead. The favorite will usually play the first 20 minutes of a game at its hardest, and the point spread they’ll have to cover will be approximately half of the full-game line. Meanwhile, the underdog won’t resort to intentionally fouling at the end of the first half, giving you a better chance to cash a ticket on them if they can just hang with the favorite for a while.
Do you like betting a lot of big favorites but don’t want to risk needing them to cover the point spread? Consider combining all of them onto a parlay instead, reducing your risk and increasing your potential winnings.
You’ll need to get every pick on a parlay correct in order to win your bet, but the odds are multiplied to give you a chance to win a lot more money. If you parlay three big favorites, you could stand to win even money on your wager, rather than having to risk a lot to win a little on each of them individually.
Live betting, when you wager on games while they’re in progress, is a natural fit in college basketball. Since the players are young amateurs who aren’t as poised as professionals, NCAA basketball games can have even bigger momentum swings than what we see in the NBA.
Those big momentum swings also lead to huge swings in the live betting odds. A 10-point favorite can quickly find themselves trailing by 10 points in the first half, at which point they might become a 1- or 2-point favorite on the live betting odds. And as quickly as the big favorite falls behind, they can also overcome a big deficit with a run of their own, especially if they have superior talent.
Unfortunately, not all college basketball games are available on live betting because there are simply too many of them for the oddsmakers to keep up. However, most betting sites will offer live betting on the majority of games involving teams from the power conferences such as the Big Ten, Big East, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC.
One last popular way to bet on college basketball is by betting on the futures odds throughout a season. Most online betting sites have national title championship odds posted at almost all times, and those odds will fluctuate dramatically based on how each team is playing recently.
Although the top favorites will always be the most tempting for a futures bet, the big money opportunities can be found with the dark horses, especially early in the season. The Michigan Wolverines, for example, paid 20:1 to win the 2018 NCAA title at the start of the year but saw those odds sliced to 12:1 going into March Madness and went on to play in the national championship game.
And don’t forget about the teams who aren’t in major conferences! Relatively unknown programs like Butler, Wichita State, and Virginia Commonwealth have challenged for NCAA supremacy in recent years. Even Loyola-Chicago paid 250:1 at the start of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, then advanced all the way to the Final Four!
Even though the NCAA basketball season begins in early November and conference champions are determined in both regular-season and tournament play, the March Madness NCAA Tournament is by far the most popular three weeks of the college hoops season.
The annual event features 68 teams in a single-elimination, win-or-go-home format. The first two full days of the tournament feature 16 games each, and the 12 hours of nearly constant basketball action makes it a huge hit for bettors! Even as the tournament winds down after more and more teams are eliminated, the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four, and national title games are highlights on any sports fan’s calendar.
The most popular way of betting on March Madness has long been to fill out a bracket and enter it in a pool, with prizes going to the person with the most correct picks. However, it is incredibly difficult to predict the NCAA Tournament that far in advance, and most people’s brackets are “busted” within a few hours. Billionaire Warren Buffett annually holds a March Madness bracket contest offering $1 million per year for life to any Berkshire Hathaway employee who simply picks the first 4 rounds correctly, and nobody has ever collected.
That’s why more and more people are turning to online betting sites to bet on March Madness instead. By betting online or at Las Vegas sportsbooks, you’re able to bet on one game at a time, making sure that the NCAA Tournament remains exciting long after your bracket has been crumpled up and thrown in the garbage can!
For more info on NCAA Tournament betting, be sure to read our extensive March Madness betting guide.
Even though there are more than 300 teams in Division 1, there are a select few schools that always seem to rise to the top. Whether it’s coaching, support from their fans, the size of the school, financial resources, or a tradition to live up to, NCAA basketball often sees the same small circle of teams vying for the championship at the end of every season.
UCLA is the winningest program of all time in college basketball, claiming 11 national championships. However, hard times have hit the Bruins since their last NCAA title in 1995, and we haven’t seen UCLA reach the Final Four since 2008.
Here are 5 other programs that you always need to be aware of in college basketball today, whether they’re a school with a long and proud history or a program that is up-and-coming.
The Wildcats’ eight national championships trails only UCLA as the most of all time, and Kentucky is still dangerous every spring. Coach John Calipari is a stellar recruiter who always has some of the nation’s top young talent at his disposal come tournament time.
Not only do the Tar Heels rank third in NCAA history with six national titles, but three of them have come in the last 12 years. Claiming an NCAA championship is always the goal at the start of the season in Chapel Hill.
Led by certain future hall-of-fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils are a mainstay in the Top 25 rankings. Three of Duke’s five national championships have come since 2001.
The Jayhawks have won just one NCAA title since 1988, but don’t let that fool you. Kansas is a perennial #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and has amazingly won the Big 12 conference championship in 14 straight seasons.
The Wildcats are the new kids on the block. Their national championship win in 2018 was their second in three years, and they’ve developed a reputation for being a sharp-shooting powerhouse in the Big East.
Colleges first began competing against each other in basketball in the late 1890s, shortly after the actual sport was created by Dr. James Naismith at a YMCA training school in Springfield, Mass. However, the first games involving colleges were far from classics. Minnesota A&M (now the University of Minnesota) defeated Hamline University 9-3 in 1895, when the sport still featured 9 players per side. And even after basketball’s rules were changed to have 5 players per side on the court, the University of Chicago defeated Iowa 15-12 in another low-scoring affair in 1896.
Despite basketball’s humble beginnings, the game was immediately popular among college students, and most schools across the country had formed teams before 1900. Small tournaments were held occasionally until 1922, when the first National Intercollegiate Basketball Tournament was held in Indianapolis. The competition featured champions from 6 conferences located across the country, with the inaugural NIBA title going to Wabash College.
In 1937, Naismith introduced the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament, a 32-team competition to decide a national college basketball champion of smaller schools. (The NAIA event is still held to this day, awarding titles at the Division 1 and Division 2 levels.) The following year, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) began in New York City, annually featuring 6 of the top teams in the country.
However, the NAIA and NIT have both been overshadowed by the NCAA Tournament since 1939. The NCAA Tournament, nicknamed March Madness, grew to feature 32 teams by 1975 and had doubled to 64 teams 10 years later. The heavy interest in the tournament, much of it gambling-related, caused organizers to grow the field to 68 teams in 2011, when they added four play-in games. All of the 347 teams currently in the NCAA’s Division 1 league are eligible to compete in the tournament, although spots are awarded to conference champions and teams deemed worthy of an invitation from the tournament’s selection committee.
College basketball has always distinguished itself from the professional game by having various differences in rules. Among them are that games consist of two 20-minute halves (not four 12-minute quarters), players are disqualified after committing five fouls (not six), and possession after a held ball alternates back and forth (not a jump ball to decide it). College basketball also uses a 30-second shot clock (not 24), the 3-point line is closer, and free throws are sometimes awarded in a 1+1 bonus system (not 2 free throws).
Whew, that was a lot of information to digest, wasn’t it? On the bright side, we’re sure you’re now champing at the bit to go out there and start betting on NCAA basketball. But where do you begin?
Although we’ve referenced online betting sites throughout this article, there are actually a few other places where you can bet college basketball as well. Sportsbooks in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada accept wagers on all college basketball games (restrictions on betting games involving UNLV and the University of Nevada were lifted in 2001), and some sportsbooks offer wagering over the telephone.
However, those options listed above come with some big disadvantages. Unless you live in Nevada or fly there, you won’t be able to bet at those Vegas sportsbooks. Wagering over the telephone also has its share of risks, as you have no actual proof of the bets you placed.
Online betting sites, though, couldn’t be easier to use. They can all be accessed on your smartphone, and many of them even have apps that make them easier to navigate. Any bet you place on an online betting site comes with a receipt that you can screenshot, print, or even have emailed to you. It’s also safer because you can only bet with money that you have in your account, preventing you from the dangers of betting on credit.
Ready to join a NCAA betting site? We’re happy to help. Check out our reviews for more information on the best sites to join, make a deposit, and let’s start beating the books!