We’re not into burying the lede around here, so let’s cut right to the chase: a college basketball game consists of two 20 minute halves, along with a 15 minute break at half-time. For those of you simply looking to understand the basics – that’s it. You’re welcome.
Of course, there’s much more to say on the topic than just that. While based on the timeframes we’ve just given, you’d expect games to be over in a little under an hour, most broadcast games last for around 2 hours. Why the huge discrepancy between the allotted time and the actual broadcast time?
Stop the clock!
NBA fans will already know what we’re getting at – fortunately, they’re good at waiting patiently for inevitable outcomes.
There are all kinds of reasons for play to stop. Fouls, free throws, injuries, time-outs, technical difficulties, and more can stop the clock – these stoppages may last a minute or less each, but when you add them all up, they can easily add more than an hour to total game time.
Not every NCAA basketball game has media time-outs, but those that do may be a bit longer than a game that isn’t being broadcast. These time-outs actually affect the flow of the game (coaches and their teams can discuss strategy), so coaches can call fewer time-outs in broadcast games. For those who are interested in the numbers:
- Non-broadcast games allow for four 75-second and two 30-second time-outs
- Broadcast games allow for one 60-second time-out and three 30-second time-outs, plus the media time-outs.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that in close games, you’ll see a lot of intentional fouls late in the second half – just like in the NBA. Time may seem to slow down toward the end of the game, and the last minute or two of play can last well over 10 actual minutes in some circumstances.
Tied games go to overtime. Extra periods last 5 minutes, instead of the usual 20 – in between each extra period, there’s a 1 minute intermission. The things we discussed in the previous section still apply here, so you can expect these extra periods to last quite a bit longer than 5 minutes. Teams will tend to have more players close to fouling out, however, so there may be a bit less foul-related game manipulation in these overtime periods.
The total time games can take when things go to overtime can be pretty ridiculous – in 2009, a game between Syracuse and Connecticut went into sextuple overtime, lasting a total of 3 hours and 46 minutes.
How do NCAA games compare to other competitive basketball games?
We’ve established the length of NCAA games: 40 minutes plus a 15 minute break in theory, and around 2 hours in practice. For context, let’s look at how this compares to basketball played at the high school level, and games played in the NBA.
How long are high school basketball games?
High school basketball isn’t played in halves; instead, the games are divided into 4 quarters of 8 minutes each (for a total of 32 minutes). There is a half-time intermission of 15 minutes between the second and third quarters. Add it all up, and you get 42 minutes – about 13 minutes less than the allotted play and break time in college games.
Of course, many of the same clock stopping rules apply at the high school level – though, depending on the school, you may not see the clever use of fouls in the fourth quarter.
Overtime lasts for half of the time of a standard quarter – in other words, an overtime round is four minutes, instead of eight. Much like college basketball, if the score is tied at the end of an overtime round, there’s an intermission followed by another round of overtime.
How long are NBA games?
NBA games are played in quarters – specifically, 12 minute quarters, for a total of 48 minutes plus a 15 minute half-time break. That means NBA games last for a total of 1 hour and 3 minutes, making them the longest games of basketball – to no one’s surprise.
The clock is going to stop a lot in an NBA game – they’re all broadcast, so media time-outs are a must. In total, NBA broadcasts usually last about 2 ½ to 3 hours.
NBA overtime works exactly like college overtime – 5 minute rounds until someone ends overtime ahead.
It’s worth noting that there’s something weird about college games – they’re played in halves, while NBA and high school games are played in quarters. Why the NCAA decided on this rule isn’t entirely clear.
While there’s no obvious equation we can use to figure out how long a basketball game is going to be, you should have at least 2-3 hours free when watching a college game if you plan on seeing it through to the end. Looking for the best NCAAB picks in the business? Kyle’s got you covered.