How to bet on college basketball: Point spreads, totals, futures and more

Each year, hundreds of Division I programs and thousands of players compete in a season-long quest for glory.

The season culminates in a crescendo of chaos known as March Madness. It’s a month-long tournament where the country’s top 68 teams compete for national title rights.

The typical college season is filled with conference games, mini-tournaments, and non-conference marquee matchups. Luckily for sports bettors, there are ways to bet on all of these events.

If you’re wondering how to bet on college basketball, you’ve come to the right place.

While it may seem like there is an overwhelming amount of options to choose from, this article will outline the best ways to find value in the college basketball landscape.

money line

Making a moneyline bet is simple: pick the team you think will win the game. You win your bet if you make the right prediction.

Money line bets (ML for short) are more popular in low-scoring sports like hockey or baseball, but there are still plenty of ways to place bets like these in college basketball.

Each team is assigned a quota set. The underdog is marked with a plus sign (+) and the favorite with a minus sign (-) in front of their odds. The preferred team is the site that sportsbook says has a greater chance of winning.

A -200 favorite has an implied win probability of 66.67%, while a -400 favorite is 80%.

With hundreds of games to choose from, there are certainly options to find more level picks on the moneyline. A matchup can have a -130 favorite and a +120 underdog.

However, you will find heavily one-sided ML matchups in college basketball due to the large talent gap between top-end teams and low-end programs.

For example: If Gonzaga, a national powerhouse, played Pepperdine, a smaller school, Gonzaga could be over -1,500 on the moneyline. That would mean the Bulldogs would have an implied winning probability of 93.75%.

Gonzaga has made the Sweet 16 in three consecutive tournaments.  Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/AP

Pepperdine would win around +900 in this hypothetical scenario. Neither would necessarily be an attractive betting option. In short, Pepperdine will almost certainly lose, and you would have to bet $1,500 on Gonzaga to win $100.

For matchups like this, point spread betting is often the smarter game.

Here are some examples of money line bets and what you could win based on the odds and your stake:

opportunities bet Win
-110 $100 $100
-1,000 $1000 $100
+900 $100 $900

point distribution

Point spread betting is the most popular way to bet on college basketball. It offers the opportunity to enter an unequal matchup at even odds.

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Sportsbooks assign a points spread to the favorite and signal this by putting a minus sign (-) next to the number of points they need to win by. The underdog has a plus sign (+) next to the same number.

Using the example above, it’s clear that Pepperdine would be an underdog and Gonzaga could be a favorite by around 26.5 points.

The line would look like this:

Gonzaga -26.5 (-110) vs Pepperdine +26.5 (-110).

If you bet on Gonzaga, it would have to win by 27 points or more. On the other hand, a Pepperdine bettor would cash in if the team loses by 26 points or fewer.

Most books set the point spread odds at -110 on each side. That means a bet of $110 wins $100. The $10 difference, known as the juice, is the cut the sports book takes from each bet.

There are several factors to consider when betting on point distribution including location, injuries and recent results.

There is also an option to increase or decrease the spread. These are known as alternative spreads and can help a bettor find more value.

For example, let’s say LSU plays Alabama, which opened as a 6.5-point favorite. If you think Alabama will bust LSU, you could raise the line and take the team at -9.5 on an alt spread.

As a result, this would change your odds from -110 to around +140. You could also move the line to -3.5 which would result in odds of around -150 as your chances of winning would be considered more likely.


If you want to bet on a game but don’t want to decide on a team to cover you can bet on totals. Also known as Over/Under or O/U, you are betting on the total number of points scored in a competition.

College basketball totals can vary by competition and range from 125 to 150 points.

Using the LSU vs. Alabama example, we can assume that two high-scoring teams would have their O/U sets near 142.5. To successfully set the over in this game, a total of 143 points or more must be scored to win the ticket.

For under bettors, 142 points or less means you win the bet.

Important context in over/under betting is how often teams foul, previous matchups, and each team’s offensive and defensive capabilities.

Similar to point distribution, bettors have the option of choosing alternate totals when betting on college basketball.

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Sticking with Alabama and LSU, one could choose an alternative line of 137.5 points. If you think the game is going to be a defensive fight this could be a good option as the under could now pay something in the +175 range while the value of betting on the over could shift to -250.

One of the key differences between college hoops and the NBA is that the game is split into two 20-minute halves rather than four game quarters. This makes first half betting a popular market for college basketball enthusiasts.

First half betting mostly follows the same rules of the money line, point spread and total markets.

Typically, the first half’s moneyline would mirror the normal moneyline, with perhaps a slight deviation. In this case, a favorite would go from -220 to -190.

A fold with money lines in the first half: if the result is a tie after 20 minutes, the bet will be settled as a ‘push’. This means that neither side wins and your stake is refunded.

However, there is a significant change in point spreads and totals.

If the point spread for a Duke vs. Wake Forest game is set at Duke -10.5, the spread can be around -5.5 in the first half. This type of bet works well when Wake Forest is a notoriously strong starter or when Duke is prone to sleepy first-half results.

The same idea applies to sums. If a full game O/U between Michigan and Wisconsin is 120.5, the first half O/U can be set at 57.5.

A parlay is a unique way to combine multiple single bets into one larger stake in order to get a bigger payout while taking on more risk. Each additional bet is referred to as a leg and all legs must win to collect the parlay. The entire ticket loses if one of the sections is wrong.

Parlays start with two legs but can add three, four, five or more selections to the ticket.

You can combine moneylines, totals and spreads on parlays and even mix and match sports.

An example of a college basketball game would be:

Alabama -6.5 (-110)
Duke vs. UNC alternating over 140.5 (-130)
Seton Hall ML (+230)

This would give a combined odds of +886 meaning that on a $100 bet you would net $886.67 ($986.57 total return).

How to bet on college basketball futures

This betting market offers punters the opportunity to place a bet on an event that will be settled in the future, sometimes months later.

Picking the national championship winner is the most popular futures bet in college basketball. Due to the unique nature of the tournament, you can often find great value for even the best teams.

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Kansas won the national title in 2022 and opened the season at +1,400 odds to a repeat.

If you’re confident of making it into the Sweet 16 or Elite 8, there could be plenty of hedging to guarantee a win.

There are other futures markets available to bettors such as conference winners and team winning totals.

College basketball is divided into conferences such as the ACC, SEC, and Big Ten, among others. Before March Madness begins, each conference has a tournament to determine the best team. These tournaments also follow a single game knockout format where the winner is automatically bid into the tournament.

Some examples of what conference futures might look like before the start of the season:

Creighton wins the Big East: +1,200
Baylor wins the Big 12: +250
Syracuse wins the ACC: +675
Gonzaga wins the WCC: -290

March Madness Betting

Many describe March Madness as the best sporting event of the year and it’s hard to disagree.

The top 64 teams in the country play in a single-elimination tournament, where each school is seeded 1st through 16th and divided into four different groups. Each group has a #1 seed, a #2 seed, and so on.

The higher seed is usually preferred unless it’s a close matchup.

The tournament is known for its unpredictability, especially in the first two rounds when there is a mixed seeding. This is an opportunity to try and find value on moneyline picks where you can get excited about plus money.

In addition to ML tips, you can place bets on totals, spreads and parlays.

If you are betting on March Madness, we have one piece of advice: keep your cool and bet responsibly.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of betting on every game. That’s especially true if you decide on a bracket and are interested in which team goes on. Stick to your analysis and find value in what you can count on instead of betting all games just for the sake of it.

The tournament is called March Craziness for a reason. Sometimes everything you think you know about college hoops turns on its head.

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Avery Perri writes about sports betting for NorthStar Bets. NorthStar Bets is owned by NordStar Capital, which also owns Torstar, Star’s parent company. Follow him on Twitter: @AveryPerri

Disclaimer This content was created as part of a partnership and as such may not meet the standards of impartial or independent journalism.

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