Learn How to Bet on College Basketball and Win

With hundreds of teams to bet on, learning how to bet on college basketball can be extremely exciting but daunting for beginners. 

College basketball betting lines explained

There are many ways to wager on college basketball. The most popular forms of NCAA betting are the moneyline, point spread, and Over/Under totals.

Moneyline

With college basketball moneylines, bettors pick the winner of the game. Each team has odds indicating their likelihood of winning the game outright, and bettors choose accordingly. 

Point spread

NCAA basketball point spreads are a way to level the field of competition between two mismatched teams by setting a handicap in point differential. One team is the favorite – and has to win by more than the spread – while the other will be pegged as an underdog – having to win outright or lose by less than the spread.

Over/Under

College basketball Over/Under totals are the estimated total number of points scored by both teams in a game. Bettors wager on whether the final score will go Over or Under that expected tally.

Moneylines: Pick the winner of an NCAA basketball game

The moneyline is a basic betting market in college basketball that allows bettors to decide which team they think will win the game outright.

Oddsmakers create moneyline odds for games based on each team’s implied probability of winning. NCAA basketball teams are not always evenly matched, and some schools will be far superior to others. The moneyline odds will reflect those chances of victory. 

Sportsbooks most often display moneyline odds in hundreds (American odds). American odds show one team set as the favorite (indicated by a negative value) and one team designated as the underdog (positive value).

You can use our odds converter and moneyline calculator to see a team’s implied probability based on their odds.

In the example below, oddsmakers favor the Michigan State Spartans on the moneyline at -145, meaning you would have to wager $145 to win $100. On the flip side, betting $100 on the underdog Butler Bulldogs at +125 would result in a $125 net return. 

Team Odds
Michigan State Spartans -145
Butler Bulldogs +125

Point spread: Evening the odds between two teams

Many college basketball bettors look for point spreads because they level the difference in skill between the two teams, which can be pretty extreme in the NCAA. 

Oddsmakers analyze both teams in a matchup and consider their strengths, weaknesses, and other factors such as injuries and create a point spread for the game.

Point spread favorites have negative values assigned to them, and they must win the game by more than the spread for the bet to win. 

Underdogs have positive values for their spreads and can either win outright or lose by less than that spread for the bets to win.

In the example below, the Spartans are the point spread favorites at -2.5 versus the Bulldogs at +2.5. The Spartans would need to win by more than 2.5 points to cover their spread, while the Bulldogs need to lose by fewer than 2.5 points or win the game outright to cover their spread.

Point spreads have a second set of odds alongside them, indicating the cost of placing the bet, also known as the vig or the juice. Most point spreads have a vig of -110; to win $100, you need to risk $110. Vigs can be adjusted depending on betting action and can vary from book to book.

Team Spread Vig
Michigan State Spartans -2.5 -110
Butler Bulldogs +2.5 -110

Over/Under: Betting on college basketball point totals

Game totals, also known as Over/Unders, are popular among basketball bettors.

Sportsbooks examine college basketball matchups, looking at both offense and defense, and assign a total representing the total-combined points between both teams for the game. Bettors then wager on whether the result will go Over or Under that total.

In the example below, a sportsbook has assigned a 131.5 total for Michigan State and Butler. Bettors would have to decide if the game would go Over or Under 131.5 combined points. Since a game can’t end in a half-point, this bet has no possibility of pushing. 

Michigan State Spartans Vs. Butler Bulldogs Odds
131.5o -110
131.5u -110

As with point spreads, Over/Unders also have a vig, generally set at -110. 

Parlays: Combine NCAA basketball bets for bigger payouts

Parlays are a betting method where bettors tie two or more bets together to boost the odds for a chance at a higher payout.

The more wagers bettors add to parlays, the bigger the potential payout and the bigger the risk because all bets in the parlay have to win for the entire parlay to cash out at all.

Each bet added to a parlay is known as a “leg.” Sportsbooks will allow anywhere from 2-12 games in a basketball parlay. 

The bettor has picked Butler at +125 as a moneyline underdog against Michigan State in the example below. They also took the heavy favorite Florida State at -2,800. 

By tying these two bets together, the bettor gets combined odds of +133 and a chance at more value on their bet on Florida State. But for this bet to pay out, both bets have to win, or the bettor will receive zero winnings.

Two-team parlay
Moneyline: Tulane @ Florida State (-2,800)
Moneyline: Michigan State @ Butler (+125) 
Parlay +133
Stake $100
Total Return $233.04

Using our parlay calculator, you can see the potential payout for tying bets together in a parlay. 

Futures: Betting on teams' tournament hopes

Among the most popular bets in college basketball is betting who wins the National Championship, an example of a futures bet in which bettors wager on things in the near and far future. March Madness is one of the most significant betting events in sports. Many bettors have money on who they think will come out on top well before the tournament. 

NCAA Basketball Championship lines are released immediately following the conclusion of the previous year's tournament. Picking a winner means you’re banking on the team successfully making the tournament and winning six straight do-or-die games on college basketball’s biggest stage. 

In the example below, Gonzaga has the best odds to win March Madness at +700. Michigan (+1,000) and UCLA (+1,200) follow Gonzaga to round out the top three. These odds will shift around throughout the season and will be available right up until the end of March Madness. 

Team Odds
Gonzaga +700
Michigan +1,000
UCLA +1,200
Villanova +1,200
Texas +1,400
Kentucky +1,400
Duke +1,400
Purdue +1,500
Kansas +1,500
Memphis +1,600

How to bet on March Madness

March Madness betting works just like most basketball games. However, when you mix in the high-stakes tournament format and the top programs in the NCAA, betting takes on a completely different intensity.

Sift through the sleepers, contenders, and Cinderellas and learn how to bet on March Madness.

NCAA Basketball betting tips and strategies

Now that you know what kind of bets you can make on college basketball, here are some tips to sharpen your skills and help you make smart basketball bets.

Narrow down your options Narrow down your options

There are more than 350 Division 1 college programs taking the court this season, and there’s no way you can stay on top of them all. 

The best way to approach the season, especially in the first two months, is to focus on a few conferences you care about – whether that's a conference in your area or ones that house your alma mater. 

Slimming down your focus allows you to really dig into a select number of teams, and truly understand them on a game-to-game basis.

Size matters Size matters

Unlike college football, which only has 11 conferences and groupings, college basketball has 32 different conferences and leagues, from Power 5 groups like the ACC and Big Ten, to small mid-majors like the Northeast Conference and Patriot League.

Because there are so many teams, oddsmakers dedicate themselves to the big-name conferences which draw the most betting action, leaving them exposed when it comes to small conference lines.

That means that if you can become an expert in one of these mid-majors, you give yourself an advantage over the bookies. But keep in mind that some small conference games don’t get betting odds, so research your wagering options.

Comb through this season's college basketball teams using our NCAA basketball teams page.

Take on totals Take on totals

Ask any oddsmaker or bookie and they’ll tell you the one market they fear the most is college basketball totals. On top of setting spreads for more than 300 games a week, sportsbooks will offer totals on those contests as well. 

These numbers are often attacked by sharp bettors the second they hit the board and adjust quickly, so if you can jump on the trend and get a good Over or Under number before it adjusts too far, you’re at least on the wise side of the total. Find the best totals odds by using our college basketball odds comparison tool to see odds from a huge variety of legal sportsbooks.

Find value in the futures Find value in the futures

For the most part, the NCAA tournament futures odds look the same every season with perennial powerhouse programs like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina near the top of the board. And even as the season plays out, those odds stay relatively unchanged from week to week.

If you can spot a March Madness sleeper beyond those college basketball blue bloods, you’ll likely get a number of 10 to 1 or higher and set yourself up for a solid payday once the tournament kicks off in mid-March.

How to make a college basketball bet

1

Research available games matchups on our scores and matchups page

Our NCAA basketball scores and matchup page lists the games of the day plus upcoming games, and you can also sort by spread, total size, and line movement. 

Each game gives a snapshot of the opening odds, current odds, team records straight up and against the spread, as well as the percentage of picks calculated by our Covers Consensus

From there, you can dive deep into our detailed matchup pages for each game. Track line history, view the most popular spread and total picks and analyze unique betting trends for every team.

2

Find the best college basketball odds using our odds comparison tool

Making intelligent bets on NCAA basketball isn't always about betting the best team, but betting the best odds. 

Find current spreads, totals, and moneylines for many college basketball games from the top legal sportsbooks in your area using our college basketball odds comparison tool. Compare across the industry and shop for the best odds for your NCAA bets.

3

Login/Sign up for a sportsbook in your area

Signing up for a new sportsbook is simply a few clicks away. Once you find a legal sportsbook in your area, sign up for an account and quickly deposit using various banking methods, such as credit cards and e-transfers. Most sportsbooks also offer great bonuses and sign-up promotions to new users.

4

Make your bet

After researching your best college basketball picks, you can place those bets at the sportsbook by selecting NCAA basketball from their menu and searching for the game or market you want to bet.  

From there, select the wager to add it to your bet card and enter the amount of money you wish to risk. After that, click submit, and you'll get a receipt or e-ticket for that bet, showing you the odds you bet and the amount you can win.

Today's college basketball odds

Here are the current college basketball odds for a selection of today's games: 

To see the odds for more of today's college basketball matchups, visit our NCAA basketball odds page.

College basketball betting contest

Want to try before you buy? Our King of Covers NCAA basketball contest is perfect for that. Make real college basketball bets for free without having to deposit at a sportsbook. Bet the spread and Over/Under totals on the 2021-22 NCAA season for the chance to win cash and prizes.             

Best basketball sportsbooks for beginners

Covers’ team of betting experts have thoroughly researched the internet’s vast collection of online sportsbooks so you don’t have to. Here are the best basketball betting sites so you can get your college basketball betting underway.

These sportsbooks are licensed and trusted sites and offer great sign-up bonuses, plenty of convenient and quick banking options, and great odds for rookie bettors.

NCAA basketball betting forum

Want to learn more about college basketball betting and meet a large, knowledgeable community? Check out Covers’ NCAA basketball betting forum to get picks, ask questions, and learn from experienced sports bettors.

College basketball betting FAQs

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