Men’s Division I college basketball is the hardest sport to consistently handicap, with 347 teams to try to make sense of and the nature of the game itself, with big point swings and many upsets.
The most popular type of bet in college basketball is a straight wager on a given team (side), with bettors laying a (moving) point spread — the number of points oddsmakers have assigned to the favorite in that game. The favorite will always have a minus sign (-) in front of their point spreads while the underdogs will always have a plus sign (+) in front of theirs.
Unlike the NBA where point spreads generally fall in a 1- to sometimes (extremely high and rare) 20-point range, point spreads in NCAA college basketball can be much higher with greater discrepancies of talent among the 347 Division I teams — thus the often much, much higher point spreads.
When a team from an elite conference like the ACC or Big East faces a school from a smaller conference like the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, then no matter where the game is being played or the specific situation, the number is often going to be much higher than any NBA point spread over a given season.
For example, when MAAC side Marist played Big 12 side West Virginia at a neutral site on Nov. 23, 2017, the Mountaineers closed as 29½-point favorites over Marist. And with the Red Foxes losing by only 6 (WV 84, MAR 78), the big underdogs easily won the money.
Points in NCAA basketball are scored in 1’s (free throws), 2’s (2-point shots) or 3’s (3-point shots), with the 3-point line distance in college being just 20 feet, 9 inches — or 3 feet closer to the arc (of the basket) than in the NBA (23 feet, 9 inches). Any points scored in overtime count toward point spread side bets.
Looking at a college basketball sample betting rotation below from SBROdds.com, the home team is always on the bottom with the betting number to the immediate left of the school’s name. Here’s a sample from the 2018 NCAA Championship Game between Villanova-Michigan where the closing number was Villanova -6½ to -7:
Like with football and the NBA, in college basketball games there is the standard -110 vigorish (11/10 odds) in making straight bets on both sides and totals, although as you can see in the sample, many offshores move vigorish on point spreads by “cents,” so you will see lines like -7 +107 depending on how much money they are getting on a specific side or total. These are markets broken down to cents.
So to bet on a particular side in this sample — let’s say Villanova — a bettor would have used betting (code) #602 to bet on the Wildcats, with the lowest available (closing) vigorish in this sample being the -105 at Heritage.
And with Villanova winning this game, 79-62 (+17), the Wildcats easily “covered” the 6½- and 7-point spreads by 10½ and 10 points, respectively, winning their backers money in this instance. A $105 wager (at Heritage) to win $100 would have returned $205 — the initial $105 bet amount plus the $100 which was won by the bettor.
Totals Straight Bets
A total is the combined number of points scored between two teams in a game and the standard 11/10 vigorish is also applied when betting on totals (although some sportsbooks use lower -105 juice as a selling point). Again, using the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s National Championship Game game as a sample, we saw a closing (consensus) total of 144½, so bettors in the totals market in this game could bet whether or not they though more than 144½ points or less than 144½ points would be scored.
With Villanova winning 79-62, you can see that a total of 141 points were scored, falling "under" (by 3½ points) the betting total in the game. So, the "under" bettors won and the "over" players lost.
To put in a totals bet at the betting windows or online, you can use the betting code # from either team, like the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, soccer and other sports. In this case, a winning bettor could have bet “601 Under” or “602 Under” and been a winner.
NCAA basketball totals are considerably less than NBA game totals for several reasons, including the skill level of the players involved (pros vs. amateurs), the NCAA employing a 30-second shot clock vs. the NBA’s quicker 24-second one, and, the NCAA playing a total of 40 minutes (in non-OT games) with two 20-minute halves in a game compared to the 48 minutes played in NBA games.
Moneyline Straight Bets
A moneyline (straight) bet doesn’t involve laying or taking any points, but simply trying to pick the game’s outright winner on a moneyline market price, one set by oddsmakers in a usual three- but sometime four-digit number (price) that moves depending on what side (team) the public is wagering on.
Looking again at that sample 2018 NCAA Championship Game, you can see that the moneyline closed in a range from -275 to -340 on favored Villanova. So in this case, the best (lowest) offshore sportsbooks was to back the Big East’s Wildcats was at Intertops at -275. The “opener,” located immediately to the right of the team’s names, is where the moneyline price opened when it was released for betting.
So a $275 bet on Villanova would have won $100, and if underdog Michigan would have won the game, the +275 at 5Dimes would have been the best payback out there, meaning that $275 would have been paid for every $100 wagered on the Wolverines. Some shops only offer moneylines on games up to a certain point spread levels.
Explaining A Push, Pick And Buying Points
If a team favored wins a game by exactly the number of points you are giving by taking the favorite or getting by betting on the underdog, the wager is considered a “push” (or “wash” in some corners), and the money you bet is returned. A “push” can happen with both sides and totals, but only when numbers are “flat,” or have no ½ (point) involved.
Here’s an example of a potential NCAAB game where both the side and total push:
GONZAGA -11 Pacific ♦ Total: 163
FINAL SCORE: GONZ 87 PAC 76
If you ever see “pick,” “pick ‘em” or “PK” on a betting rotation, it simply means the game is dead-even point spread-wise (0), giving the sports bettor the chance to simply “pick” his or her winner on an even basis, with vigorish applied of course. A pick can often be the point spread market itself being bet on up or down to a point where a game almost become an even money, moneyline bet in a sense, or oddsmakers will set a game at “PK” and the incoming action will dictate which team becomes the small favorite or if the line stays where it is — even — and a pick.
“Buying points” isn’t employed by the majority of bettors in sportsbooks, but when it is, it’s done in basketball and football and usually involves “buying” ½ point and paying -120 vigorish instead of the standard -110. Some offshore sportsbooks also allow bettors to buy 1, 1½, 2 and even 2½ points at obviously higher rates of juice.
Most wiseguys and betting experts would steer gamblers away from buying points, especially in basketball, where playing defense with intent in the end of games can often be wishful thinking with teams ahead often not wanting to commit a foul on shooters, leading to many easy looks at the basket and layups and/or dunks.
A better option would probably be to employ a teaser and get more points, but that would require having to get both elements right, and with much harsher odds.
A parlay means combining multiple elements (or legs) of sides and/or totals in a single wager where all of the components must win (or push) for the bet to pay out. Some sportsbooks in Nevada let bettors parlay up to 8 sides (or totals), Online sportsbook Bovada lets hoops bettors combine up to 15 college basketball teams with 5Dimes letting bettors assemble buffet-like 25-team parlays. Parlay payouts vary from sportsbook to sportsbook, but are generally in a fairly tight range so check out the specifics of what each one has to offer.
Here’s a sample 6-team parlay made online for $385.54, which ended up winning and paid this lucky (or skilled) sports gambler an eye-popping, account-pumping $18,279.51 with all six legs having the standard -110 juice:
A teaser lets the bettor “tease” a point spread up or down a certain number of points for a specific number of teams or totals (from 1 to 8 and often more) to be used in a parlay-type wager. Winning teasers pay significantly less than winning parlays because of the premium paid for buying and applying the points with and the higher number of points you choose to tease a game by, the lower your potential teaser payout.
Like a parlay, if any element in the teaser loses, the wager loses. Different sportsbooks have different rules on handling “pushes” (ties ATS), with prudent ones grading them as pushes and removing that game from the teaser. Sportsbooks have different limits on the number of teams a bettor can have in a teaser with some offshores allowing up to 10 teams with Las Vegas shops allowing fewer teams (a chart from Intertops is below).
Some offshores offer sweetheart (or “monster”) teasers allowing gamblers to apply 10 points to a given game. These will look good on paper or on your mobile device or computer, but these types of bets often have a hard time cashing due to to one or more unforeseen finals (upsets).
Using that 2018 NCAA Championship Game between Villanova and Michigan (VIL -6) and the Wolverines and Wildcats and the total (144½) in a 6-point, 2-team teaser as an example, a bettor could have adjusted (closing) lines in the following ways:
Villanova -6½ +6 = Villanova -½ (Winner)
Michigan +6½ +6 = Michigan = +12½ (Loser)
Total Over 144½ -6 = Total Over 138½ (Winner)
Total Under 144½ +6 = Total Under 150½ (Winner)
So, the only loser in this teaser scenario would have been to tease Michigan “up.”
A round robin is a combination of parlays all in one bet, with 2 to 5 teams at Intertops to use a specific sportsbook and their limits as an example. Here are the number of teams a bettor can use in a round robin at Intertops and the many various combinations. A more intricate “Combination & Sub-Parlay Round Robin Tables” can be found at this Intertops link.
The amount of a round robin bet is in relationship to how many teams are chosen and how much the bettor is wagering on each 2-team parlay involved in the round robin.
Using the top listed example of 5 teams/options and 2-team parlays, there would be 10 possible combinations — AB, AC, AD, AE, BC, BD, BE, CD, CE and DE — and to get all 10 sub-parlays to pay out, all 5 selections would have to cover ATS (or on the moneyline if employed). At $20 each, this combination of 10 2-team parlays on the round robin would cost $200 (10 x $20=).
If four of the five picks win, then the four remaining sub-parlays that won are paid out; if three of five are winners, then the three remaining sub-parlays get paid; if two of the five picks win, then there will be only one combination of 2-teamers that can possibly win and the bettor has lost money; and, if only 1 (or none) of the picks are winners, than the entire round robin is a loser with no winning leg to parlay another winning leg with. Nothing from nothing leaves nothing?
Round robins are the most exotic, looping type of wager that bettors can make and is one of the most types made in sportsbooks, brick-and-mortar or online-offshore.
A futures bet is a season-long endeavor that usually involves picking a team to win the national championship (game) or perhaps a team’s individual regular-season conference or postseason conference tournament.
NCAA Division I futures odds for the coming season are usually posted immediately after the completion of the previous season at the title game, usually played on the first Monday in April after all of the hardwood dust from March Madness has finally settled. Here are the odds to win the 2018-19 NCAA Basketball Men’s Championship in Division I from online sportsbook Bovada as a working example:
Bettors who wanted to back Villanova to repeat as NCAA champion in this season would have get 12/1 odds in this particular market at that point in time (before the season began). Using Louisville (100/1) as a longshot example, if the Cardinals were to get to and win the 2019 NCAA championship game, a $100 wager at 100/1 odds would return a robust $10,000 ($100 x 100=).
Odds to win a particular NCAA conference are much, much longer due to the nature of a given team only having to get through all of the other teams within its conference.
Futures Special Props Bets
Sportsbooks will also sometimes offer special props bets like offshore operator 5Dimes does with this sample (NCAA Tournament) “To Reach The Final 4” Prop offering. Here are odds from that particular market heading into the 2018-19 season, only including schools lined to make the Final Four with odds 10/1 or shorter. This is a good example of a futures (special props) market where more than one team will end up winning (four teams), seemingly much better for the bettors involved.
So should Villanova (+175) and Florida (10/1) make it to the 2019 NCAA Basketball Final Four, a bettor backing both would get paid 1.25x for every $100 bet on Villanova and 10x for every $100 wagered on Florida.
Live Betting (In-game Wagering)
Live betting (or in-game wagering) is still a relatively new way to bet, picking up steam from 2010 on and allowing bettors wagering on these games to still be able to get down on the point spreads, moneylines and totals of game after tip-off. This real-time, quick-decision type of wagering allows for betting on mobile devices, online or in sportsbooks in casinos where offered.
An example of how an (in-game) point spread and total might change? Say Kansas closed as 12-point favorites over Iowa State, and the Jayhawks started the game out with a quick 16-2 run in the first 3:33 with the total at 163½. With Kansas already up 14 in the first 18 points scored in this theoretical, and 18 total points scored so quickly, sportsbooks would adjust the (in-game) point spread on Kansas upward, as well as the (in-game) total.
If underdog Iowa State were to get out to an 18-9 lead in the first 7:59 of this game, sportsbooks would have to adjust the (in-game) line on Kansas down as well as the (in-game) total with only 27 points scored in the first 8 minutes of a 20-minute half.
Bracket Contests, March Madness Betting
One unique thing about college basketball is the plethora of wall-to-wall betting that comes with the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament and March Madness and the brackets and bracket contests that pop up after the (now) 68 teams are revealed for the Big Dance. Here is a sample bracket (above) from the 2018 Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, an event Villanova won and covered ATS in all 6 of its tourney games.
Many websites offer free contests with sweet paydays, while some offices still hold bracket pools with specific entry amounts, point systems for wins at different rounds in the tournament and paybacks ranging from winner-take-all to awarding 1st, 2nd, 3rd place (etc). different payout amounts, usually depending on who’s running the contest and the rules. The bracket contests are more entertainment and recreationally oriented compared to betting on the individual games during March Madness which for some — the first four real days (Thursday-Sunday) — is the most exciting gambling period of the calendar year and a modern rite of spring in some strange, modern way.