College Basketball betting guide: How to bet on NCAAB

The Kansas Jayhawks celebrate after beating the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament Final Four championship game at Caesars Superdome
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Caleb Wilfinger

NCAAB · 1 month ago

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Deputy Editor for Pickswise. Lover of all US sports and Southampton FC.

The 2022 college basketball season will be here before you know it, and with that comes dozens of games to bet on each week. However, there are risks that come with so many avenues to bet on each game.

Here at Pickswise, we’re committed to helping you make smarter bets this season. That’s why our team of expert handicappers is here to provide this educational guide so you can bet better. You will certainly want to have this guide on hand before you place a bet on any college basketball market this season. At Pickswise, we’ll also provide FREE picks, insights and betting deliverables for every college basketball game this season. This breakdown is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the quality of analysis we’ll have all season long.

Enjoy this betting guide, and best of luck with your bets!

Is betting on college basketball legal?

Yes, betting on college basketball–and other sports–is legal depending on the state in which you are located. Until May of 2018 there was a federal ban on sports betting in the United States, but that changed when the US Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Now the issue is up to the individual states. Many states have introduced bills to legalize sports betting, while others have bills in the works to do the same either on a full scale or at least in a limited capacity. There are some states, however, that have indicated no move toward legalizing sports betting and might never.

As of August 2022, The following states all have a legal and regulated sports betting industry, where you can wager on College Basketball:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington DC
  • West Virginia

Best online college Basketball Betting Sites and Mobile Apps

There are plenty of betting websites and mobile apps that you can use when looking to place a wager on college basketball. How do you find the one that is best for you? Well, odds can differ slightly from sportsbook to sportsbook and it would obviously be advantageous to give yourself multiple options by shopping at various ‘books to find the best prices. Some ‘books will offer parlay insurances, promotions, and odds boosts that others may not. You can also find college basketball player props at some sites that may not be available at others.

How to bet on College Basketball

Placing a bet on college basketball sounds simple enough, but if you want to do it successfully it requires multiple steps–all of which are important. You should start the process, of course, by figuring out what bet you should make. At Pickswise, we have expert handicappers who do much of the work for you by researching teams and players, breaking down statistics, previewing games, making predictions, and more. We post the odds that are being offered by various legal sportsbooks, as well. Be sure to check out our college basketball analysis all season long to help you bet better.

Once you decide on a wager to place, the next step is to determine the best site or app at which to do so. Most ‘books will have a college basketball tab either in the left column or at the top, which will then take you to the college basketball markets that are available such as games, futures, props, and–if applicable–promos and odds boosts. Locate the desired market, add the desired play to your bet slip, and then lock in your wager with the submit, bet, confirm, or applicable button.

Ways to bet on college basketball  

There are many ways to bet on college basketball, which is one of the most popular sports for bettors in the United States–especially during March Madness. Among the college basketball markets generally available at most sportsbooks are single game, futures, player props, team props, and sometimes there are separate tabs for parlays and teasers. Some of the popular college basketball betting markets are listed and explained below.

Money Line Betting

A money line bet in college basketball is when you pick one team to win outright against another, regardless of the margin of victory. It doesn’t matter if the team you are betting on wins by 1 point or 35 points; it is a successful wager regardless of the margin. Similarly, it is an unsuccessful wager if the team you are betting on loses by 1 point all the same as it is if that team loses by 35 points. When you bet on a favorite on the money line instead of the point spread, it will come with negative odds such as -115 or -140, or -200. Odds of -140 on Duke to beat Georgetown mean you must bet $140 on Duke to profit $100 (or $14 to profit $10). A Duke win–by any margin–gets you $100; with a Duke loss you lose $140. An underdog on the money line will usually come with positive odds such as +115 or +140 or +200. A $100 bet on UCLA at +115 to beat Kentucky would net you a profit of $115 if UCLA wins. You would lose your $100 if UCLA loses by any margin.

Point Spread Betting 

Point spread bets in college basketball are when you pick teams to win by more than the size of the spread if they are favorites or to lose by less than the size of the spread (or win outright, of course) if they are underdogs. Unlike on the money line, each of the two teams involved in a particular bet will generally have the same or at least similar odds to cover–such as -110 or -115. If Michigan State is a -4.5 favorite over Dayton, Michigan State must win by at least 5 points to cash a bettor’s wager. If Dayton loses by 4 points or less or wins the game outright, a Dayton bet is successful.

Totals betting

Like in any other sport, a game totals bet in college basketball is when you are wagering on the combined number of points that are scored by the two teams throughout the duration of the game. Like with point spread betting, the two sides–Over and Under–will generally have the exact same odds (usually either -110 or -115). A game between Gonzaga and Florida State may offer a total of 145.5 points. If Gonzaga wins 79-68, an Over bet would be successful because 147 points were scored. If Florida State wins 71-70, an Under bet would be a winner because only 141 points were scored.

Player prop bets 

Player props in college basketball may not be as widely available as they are in the NBA and other professional sports, but certain markets will be offered on occasion–especially during conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament. The most popular player props in a single game are points, assists, and rebounds–and combinations thereof (points + rebounds, points + assists, points + assists + rebounds, etc.).

Team prop bets 

Like with player props, team props in college basketball may not be widely available but certain markets will be offered during conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament. The most popular team props in a single game are total points–or “team total” as it will likely be listed at your sportsbook of choice. This market will be available at times during the regular season, as well. If you feel good about one team’s point total but not the point spread or the overall game total, you could place a wager on the Over/Under for that specific team. Throughout March Madness, other team props such as rebounds, assists, three-pointers made, and turnovers could be available.

Futures Bets

The futures market is popular in every sport, and college basketball is no exception. When each season begins in the fall, sports fans and bettors are already looking ahead to March Madness. The most popular futures bets are on the winner of the NCAA Tournament, winner of conference tournaments, and also to reach the Final Four. After the NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed in early March, in addition to the National Championship and Final Four markets you can also bet on teams to reach certain rounds like the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Throughout each season there is also a player futures bet available; the Wooden Award goes to the best player in college basketball and it always draws interest from the betting public.

Parlays

A parlay is a type of bet in which multiple bets are included in the same overall bet, and every leg must be successful in order for that overall bet to be a winner. It is generally a riskier play for bettors given that more than one successful outcome is needed, but the obvious benefit is that the payout is higher than it is for a standard, single bet.

In college basketball (and most other sports), you can combine point spread bets, money line bets, and game totals bets in the same parlay. For example, you could have San Diego State -4 against BYU, Arkansas on the money line against Villanova, and the Creighton vs. Georgia Tech game to go over 143 points. If SDSU wins by six, Arkansas wins, and the Creighton-Tech game features 147 total points, the three-leg parlay is a winner. But if SDSU wins by only three points instead of six, that leg is unsuccessful and the entire parlay is lost even though the other two legs were winners.

Teasers 

A teaser is a type of parlay in which a bettor can adjust the spread for all of the games involved by a certain amount of points. Like with a normal parlay, each leg must be a winner in order for the overall teaser to cash. Of course, the payout will be less than a standard parlay since a bettor is increasing the likelihood of its success by adjusting the spreads.

In a 3-team, 6-point college basketball teaser, you can tease each leg 6 points in either direction. You could move Florida -7 vs Wichita State spread to Florida -1, an Iowa -2 vs Texas spread to Iowa +4, and a USC +3 vs Virginia spread to USC +9. A successful 3-team, 6-point parlay may pay out at something like +180 odds.

College Basketball betting trends 

Just as when you bet on any other sport, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with various betting trends before betting on and while you bet on college basketball. Among the common trends to consider are where the public money is going, how successful that public money has been, how well favorites and underdogs are performing at home and on the road, and things like line movements and team by team ATS, ML, and O/U trends. It is also important to be aware of teams’ injuries, schedules (especially with respect to travel), opponents, and any discrepancies in how they play during the regular season compared to during the postseason.

Five ways to bet smarter on College Basketball  

  • Take advantage of early-season odds. There are more than 300 teams playing Division I basketball–exponentially more than the number of teams in a single professional sports league. It is tough–impossible even–for oddsmakers to be sharp on every team in the early stages of a season. That is especially the case because there is so much parity (and so many players leaving after just one year at a school) in the current era of college basketball.
  • Hammer the home team. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but in general there is a bigger home-court advantage in college basketball than there is in the NBA–and sometimes the odds don’t reflect it. College kids generally don’t deal with travel and crowd noise as well as seasoned professionals. Value can often be found in home teams when oddsmakers don’t factor in enough of an advantage. Keep in mind that there can be geographical advantages during the NCAA Tournament and conference tournaments, as well, even though those settings are technically neutral.
  • Pay attention to advanced metrics. Going with the picks of “experts” on mainstream media outlets (of which there are many–probably too many to all be true experts!) probably isn’t the way to go. Filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket based on what those experts say five minutes after the field is announced isn’t the best idea. Instead, focus on advanced metrics throughout the season and especially during the month of March. Ken Pomeroy is generally considered to be the best resource in this area.
  • Fade the public in big games and when the most popular teams are playing. There are a lot of traditional powerhouses in college basketball. In general, those are teams that the public is going to hammer–along with the teams at the top of the current rankings. Amateur bettors love to hammer those kinds of teams, often without any thought of doing proper analysis. Value can often be found in opponents that are not as well known. Similarly, the public is always going to throw down a lot more money on a nationally televised showdown featuring marquee teams than they are on more obscure games. If the money is mostly going in one direction, this can move the lines on big games more than the lines should actually move–thus creating value on the other side.
  • Go with underdogs on the futures market throughout the season. As mentioned above, there is a lot of parity in the current era of college basketball. With the one-and-done rule and the transfer portal, players and teams are changing hands at an alarming rate. It is hard for one program to remain dominant for extended periods of time. Heck, it is even hard for a team to stay atop the rankings for a full season. Dating back to 2013, at least one No. 5 seed or lower has reached the Final Four. On seven of those eight occasions at least one No. 7 seed or lower has reached the Final Four. A No. 4 seed or lower has reached the Final Four every year dating back to 2010. In 2020-21, UCLA reached the Final Four as a No. 11 seed and Houston was a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance despite being 17th in the preseason AP poll (the Cougars also reached the Final Four).

When to bet on College Basketball throughout the season?

While you can bet on college basketball all year long (odds are quick to come out for the following season after the previous season ends), college basketball takes place from early November through early April. March Madness is the grand culmination of each season, as the month of March features conference tournaments and–most notably–the NCAA Tournament (the tournament ends in April, however). Single-game bets can obviously be placed throughout each season, while the futures market is especially popular right before each season begins (October/November) and again before March Madness gets underway (early March).

It is especially difficult for college basketball oddsmakers to be sharp in the futures market for the next season right when the previous season ends because you never know who is going to the NBA, who is coming back, and who is transferring to what school. It’s a high-risk, high-reward situation when you want to place a futures wager well in advance of a season. National Championship odds, conference championship odds, and Wooden Award odds are available throughout the season and sometimes have more value in the early stages before on-court proceedings bring things into focus.

NCAAB betting strategies

Basic 

As is the case with betting on any sport, it is important to establish your bankroll when it comes to betting on college basketball. In the worst case scenario, what is the most you are willing to lose in a season? What is the max you would be willing to bet on a single game when you have a lot of confidence on it? After establishing these kinds of parameters, the next step is to familiarize yourself with the sport. Become knowledgeable about as many teams as possible and stay up to date with the latest news, scores, injury reports, etc.

Intermediate

As you become more experienced with college basketball betting, you will naturally find your niche with respect to what teams and conferences you enjoy betting on and bring you success. Where do you get your edge betting on college basketball? Answer that question based on the data you have compiled on your betting history and continue to exploit that edge. Remember to take a look at various sportsbooks and betting apps to find the one that offers the best odds on a certain market, or one that offers an intriguing prop that you might not be able to play elsewhere.

Advanced

The best and most accurate way to find the aforementioned edge is to keep a log of your college basketball betting. Track all of your bets–including the size, team(s), outcome, and also the units won or lost (you can keep track of your winnings in terms of both actual money and units, but units are a more accurate representation of your success). Watch as much college basketball as possible, which will help you rely on your own instincts as opposed to the opinions of experts and analysts. You can even make your own weekly power rankings as you become familiar with most teams. Your rankings can give you a reference point for making a bet when two teams in your rankings are going head-to-head. 

Things to avoid when betting on College Basketball 

Don’t haphazardly bet on traditional bluebloods just because they are who they are. As mentioned several times above, parity rules the current basketball landscape. Gone are the days when UCLA, Duke, and/or Kentucky would always dominate. With star players often jumping to the NBA after their freshman season, any team can fluctuate wildly from year to year. It would not be unheard of to miss the NCAA Tournament one year and then win it all the next, or win it all one year and miss the NCAA Tournament the next. Even the traditional powerhouses are not immune to these extreme swings. As such, you can’t rely on what you knew–or thought you knew–a year ago. You really have to stay on top of what is happening in college basketball nonstop in order to bet on it successfully.

Make sure not to bet too often. As mentioned earlier, there are more than 300 Division I teams in college basketball; games are going on all the time. But you can’t bet on everything–at least not with success. Find the value bets and make them, but limit it to the ones you feel great about.

Stay away from hammering overs just because game totals are a lot lower than they are in the NBA. For a whole host of reasons, college basketball scores are a lot lower than NBA scores. It is also important to note that the pace of play in college basketball varies wildly from team to team (Virginia and Gonzaga are generally at the two extremes, for example). In the NBA, basically every team plays fast and forks up three-pointers with alacrity. That isn’t the case in college basketball. Make sure you know each team’s playing tendencies before betting.

Don’t fill out your NCAA Tournament bracket or make NCAA Tournament bets based on seeding alone or on team mascot or team colors or flipping coins or throwing darts at a dart board. People like to joke that those who know less are the ones who win their office pools. That is almost never the case, and if it is…it’s all luck. In sports betting, you can’t be in the business of relying on luck.

Pickswise is the home of free sports picks, news, and best bets. Check out our expert NBA picksNCAAB picksNHL picks and Soccer picks for the latest game picks.

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