College Basketball Betting Explained

college basketball betting explained

In the 2018-2019 season of NCAA Division 1 Basketball, there were 5,826 games played

For people who are always looking for a game to bet on, and for people who are always looking for new ways to get an edge, college basketball is a dream. Plenty of opportunities to bet means you can spread your bankroll across a wide variety of games, and adjust your strategy as the season progresses. More games also means more data, which can lead to better predictions – and a better edge.

Being able to bet on a wider variety of games is fun, too.

In this article, we’re going to describe some of the different ways you can bet on college basketball. We’ll start with an overview of traditional NCAA bets, then move on to some of the more obscure types of betting. Finally, we’ll take a brief look at some of the things you should look for in a college basketball betting site.

Let’s get started.

Traditional basketball bets

We call these bets “traditional” because they line up with the most common betting you see in major leagues like the NBA. If you’re looking for bracket betting (March Madness, anyone?), or other non-traditional bets, check out the next section. 

The three traditional forms of betting are point spread, moneyline, and over/under. We’ll describe these (with examples), and then move onto some of the ways you can modify these bets: namely parlay, teaser, and reverse teaser.

Point spread

Point spread betting is The Beatles of the betting world – extremely popular, pretty old, and a reliable (if not exciting) way to bet.

The point spread is something of an equalizer. As of the time this article is being written, the Colorado Buffaloes are slated to play a game against the Omaha Mavericks. It’s impossible to know how much a given reader knows about college basketball, so let’s just say that the Buffaloes are heavily favored to win. The game shouldn’t be very close.

Now, if you could only bet on who was going to win, everyone would put their money on Colorado and bookkeepers would go bankrupt. The point spread is the fix; in the case of our Colorado vs. Omaha game, the spread is -22.0 Colorado, +22.0 Omaha.

What this means is that Colorado needs to win the game by more than 22 points for a bet on them to win – if Omaha loses by less than 22 points, or the game is a tie, or (in a huge upset) a win, a bet on them wins.

Notice that the team with the – in front of the point spread is the favorite; they need to win by more than that amount to “cover the spread” (for bets on them to win).

Sometimes, a game will hit exactly the spread – that is to say, Colorado wins by exactly 22 points. In this case, the bet is pushed, and you get back the money you bet.

Here’s how a point spread bet might be displayed on a betting website:

Nebraska Omaha @ Colorado

16:00, 16/12/2020

Nebraska Omaha+22.0 (-110)
Colorado-22.0 (-110)

-110 is the standard point spread payout – it means to make $100 profit, you’d need to put down (and win) a bet of $110.

You’ll note that this puts point spread betting in favor of the bookkeepers – they create point spreads in an effort to make the odds around 50/50 that a bet on either team will be successful. Imagine two people place a bet: one of them is out  $110, while the other is up $100. The missing $10 goes into the bookie’s pocket.

That’s why it’s so important you have an edge on every game. You can also find reduced juice betting at values like -105.

One final note about point spread betting – you’ll sometimes find spreads like -18.5/+18.5. For these bets, pushes are impossible.


Moneyline bets are much simpler than point spread bets – you just bet on whichever team you think is going to win. Now, if you were to look up the moneyline for our Omaha vs. Colorado game, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sports betting website who would actually offer you a moneyline bet.

Why? It’s simple – Colorado is so favored to win that even if they offered -10000 odds, they’d probably still end up losing money. (As a reminder, -10000 odds would mean you have to bet $10,000 to win $100).

The moneyline bet is more often offered when games are close: one sports betting site is offering the following odds for the upcoming Massachusetts vs. La Salle game:

Massachusetts @ La Salle

11:00, 16/12/2020

Massachusetts-4 (-110)-190
La Salle+4 (-110)+165

You’ll note that there’s no point value in the moneyline – just the odds. That’s because you’re simply betting on who is going to win.

There’s not a lot more to say about moneylines, save that you’ll almost never see -110/-110 payout- there’s almost universally a favorite, and they’re going to be the bet with slimmer profit margins.


These bets, sometimes referred to as total bets, aren’t about who wins and who loses – they’re about how many points, in total, are scored throughout the game. That means that at the end of the game, you add up the score of the home and the away team: that gives you your total.

Your bet is simple: will the total points scored be over the predicted amount, or under?

Much like point spread, over/under betting is juiced – the odds are about 50/50, but most betting sites will offer -110 odds. Pushes are possible with over/under betting – if the point total is exactly as predicted, all bets are pushed. Again, you’ll sometimes encounter unpushable totals, ending with a .5.

Let’s take a look at the O/U of our Massachusetts vs. La Salle game:

Massachusetts @ La Salle

11:00, 16/12/2020

Massachusetts-4 (-110)-190O 140.0 (-110)
La Salle+4 (-110)+165U 140.0 (-110)

Note that while the O is in the Massachusetts row and the U is in the La Salle row, Over/Under odds aren’t actually associated with a team winning or losing – just the point total.

Parlays and Teasers

We’re not going to go in-depth about parlays and teasers here – mainly because we recently launched a resource answering all your questions about parlay bets. Here’s a brief synopsis:

  • Parlay bets are made on two or more independent results. We might, for example, place a parlay bet on the two games we’ve discussed: one on Massachusetts winning by more than 4, and one on Omaha losing by less than 22.
  • Payouts for parlays are higher than if you were to bet on both games individually. In other words, a $20 parlay bet on both games pays more than a $10 single bet on each individual game.
  • If you lose one bet, you lose the whole parlay.
  • Teaser bets are, essentially, parlay bets in which you can change the point spread in your favor. You might, for example, shift the Omaha point spread so that they can lose by 24 points or fewer.They pay out less than parlay bets.
  • Reverse teasers, sometimes called pleasers, are parlay bets in which you change the point spread against your favor in order to increase payout. You might, for example, shift the point spread so Omaha needs to lose by 16 points or fewer.

Other college basketball bets

March Madness bracket betting

You can’t talk about NCAA basketball without talking about March Madness. Bracket betting is one of the most popular ways to bet on NCAAB results, and while it’s difficult to ascertain exactly how much money is being bet on the biggest tournament in March, estimates peg March Madness betting at billions of dollars.

Bracket betting is fairly simple in principle. Once the first-round pairings are announced, you fill in the bracket with your predictions, betting on the winner of every game from round 1 until the finals. In other words, you fill in the whole bracket before you see a single result.

Who could guess how a whole bracket is going to pan out? No one (so far), in the history of the tournament. The odds of correctly predicting how the whole bracket pans out is one in several quintillion. For number fans out there, that means your odds are lower than 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Fortunately, you don’t have to get the whole bracket right – you just need to guess how it’s going to pan out better than other people in your betting group to win. March Madness odds are incredibly variable – the size of your group and who you’re betting with can change the odds drastically. As such, it’s impossible to guess what your payout for a successful bet might be.

March Madness betting can be pretty exciting and dynamic – though there’s some debate about whether or not it’s a good way of betting. March Madness attracts a lot of non-gamblers, so it’s a bit easier to find an edge over a particular pool, but there’s a lot of variance. As always, it depends on the odds and the payout.

Prop betting

Prop bets are basically any kind of bet that falls outside of the traditional forms of betting we just went over. You might place a prop bet on a certain player scoring over a number of points, or a prop bet on who is going to score first in a given game.

While some prop bets can be considered “skilled” bets, in that your knowledge of the game will give you an edge, other prop bets are more or less totally luck-based. Who is going to score first in a given game? Honestly, it’s almost impossible to say. College basketball games are dynamic affairs – even guessing which of the two teams will score first, let alone which player, can be difficult.

Placing your bets

Now that you know how you can bet on NCAAB games, the next logical step is exploring what you should look for in a betting site. 

Sign-up bonuses and promos

One thing to look for is sign-up bonuses, also known as deposit bonuses. Sites offer these as a means of increasing the value of your initial deposit – some sites even offer 100% sign-up bonuses (though they’ll have a maximum deposit that they’ll match). These often seem too good to be true, but the purpose is to get you gambling on their site – they think they can get more than their money back. In most cases, that’s true, but if you know you’ve got an edge you might be able to pull in a lot more than you risk.

In the same vein, these sites might offer bonuses for frequent bettors. They may also run promos when March Madness comes around – NCAAB bets are becoming a pretty big part of the gambling industry.

Reduced juice

Reduced juice is the best way of betting point spread and over/under. The premise is simple – in order to encourage people to bet on a particular game, bookkeepers will sometimes give better odds than the usual -110; -105 is common for reduced juice. When you find these, and you think you’ve got an edge, jump on them. While the gains over -110 might seem relatively small, over time they add up. Proper bankroll management is all about giving yourself incremental edges, over and over again.

With that, you know about what kinds of bets you can place on NCAAB games, and what to look for to ensure you make the most profit off of those bets. Looking for some help choosing which bets to place? We’re here for you – our college basketball picks and parlays are top-tier.