College Basketball Vs. NBA Betting

Guide to wagering on the pro and amateur games

Legal sports betting is here in Illinois. Whether it’s college basketball and March Madness, or scores of NBA games, there are many betting opportunities to explore for hoops fans.

At the basic level, it can seem like the two sports are the same. However, closer inspection reveals that there are distinct nuances of each to consider before you start betting. Let’s begin by considering the similarities between the amateur- and pro-versions of the game.

Similarities between college basketball and NBA betting

The biggest drivers of NBA betting and NCAA basketball betting action are the same. Moneyline, point spread and totals bets are the top attraction for both, and they work the same, too. However, you’ll notice that the odds and lines can be quite different. We’ll take a closer look at that shortly. For now, know that NBA games are typically high-scoring.

Along with the types of bets, all the basics are the same. It’s a five-on-five game of fast-paced action for both, with fouls and three-pointers aplenty.

Key differences between NCAA basketball vs. NBA betting

There can often be a much larger talent gap in a college basketball matchup as opposed to an NBA game. Powerhouse programs may square off with smaller schools during the regular season, which can lead to some large paper mismatches.

For the NBA, there are certainly talent discrepancies between the best and worst teams. That said, they’re all professionals, and upsets can happen at any time. Also, keep in mind that NCAAB games have two halves, while there are four quarters for an NBA game.

How does the college basketball schedule work?

The NCAA regular season generally gets underway in November. For the first two months of the season, there are several small tournaments and interconference games on the docket. Once the calendar gets past New Year’s, conference play rules the day.

There are 350+ schools spread across 32 conferences. That translates into lots of regular-season games to consider. There can be lots of paper mismatches when strong schools meet lesser foes, but there’s also a good mix of competitive affairs. Over the course of January and February, conference standings sort out, but some interconference tilts are mixed in.

After the regular season concludes, there are conference tournaments that have an extra prize for the winner. The club that takes down the tourney receives an automatic invite to March Madness, one of the top betting events of the year.

Another 36 clubs receive at-large berths for a total of 68 teams. The madness begins with the First Four, which is essentially a play-in round in which the four winners advance. From there, the tournament plays out with 64 teams spread evenly across four brackets.

It’s single-elimination, with winners advancing. The semifinals are known as the Final Four, followed by the national championship game. Betting action can be strong for top games during the regular season, but it explodes when March Madness betting comes around. Learning how to predict March Madness upsets becomes a valuable skill to have, too.

How does the NBA schedule work?

The NBA features 30 teams. The league is split into the Eastern Conference and Western Conference, each of which has three divisions. The regular season typically begins in early November and ends in April.

Among the highlights are the annual Christmas Day affairs and the all-star game. Each club plays a balanced 82-game schedule. At the conclusion of the regular season, the top eight finishers in each conference make it to the NBA playoffs.

For each round of the playoffs, teams play a series of games, with the winners of the matchups advancing to the next round. The winners of each conference championship will square off at the NBA Finals.

The biggest games during the season — think national TV affairs and meetings of powerhouses — get the most action, but each contest on the docket sees its fair share. When the playoffs are on tap, each game will see plenty of wagering.

There can be plenty of potential mismatches during the season, but the point spread and potential for upsets keep those games interesting, too.

Online betting rules for NCAAB vs. NBA games

First, there’s an aspect of Illinois sports betting law that you should know. You can’t place online bets involving college programs that are within Illinois. That means no betting on Illinois, Northwestern, DePaul or Loyola Chicago or any other school from here at home.

Betting on IL college teams is now legal in person at retail sportsbooks thanks to HB 3136. However, it is still illegal on a mobile device.

Since 350+ teams play at the Division I level, you won’t be lacking for options. There aren’t any restrictions when it comes to betting on NBA games.

However, each sportsbook has a set of house rules. Here are some key points:

  • A bet is considered live once the game tips off. If it’s postponed prior to getting underway, the bet could remain in queue if it’s only a slight delay. In the event of a complete cancellation, wagers are voided and funds will be returned to bettors.
  • Settlement of game outcomes, player props, live bets and other wagers are based on official league statistics and data.
  • When spread and total bets land on the number set by sportsbooks when the wager was placed, the bet is treated as a “push,” with amounts refunded to users.

That’s the majority of what you need to know. Be aware, though, that other circumstances can arise, and how they are handled may vary by operator. To avoid any potential surprises, it’s always a good idea to review the house rules from the operator. There’s a dedicated section in some spots, while digging through the help section will lead you to the right place in others.

Odds comparison for NCAA basketball vs. the NBA

Throughout the regular season, there are plenty of hoops games to bet on each day. Interest ramps up even further for March Madness and the NBA postseason. Every contest available at online sportsbooks and betting apps will have odds attached.

College basketball teams play less regularly than their pro counterparts. On the amateur side, a team may only play twice per week, while the pros can suit up twice as often.

Lines may be released well in advance for college games, while it’s usually the night before or day of for the NBA. In both cases, you can expect to see movement from the initial release right up until tipoff.

This happens as a direct result of the betting action that comes in. If the public money clearly favors one side, oddsmakers will tweak the betting lines in a bid to balance things out.

Line shopping is important for both sports. This simply means you are checking the numbers at multiple operators to find the best price. FanDuel Sportsbook may have up one spread, while it could be a half-point different over at BetRivers Sportsbook. While that may not sound like much, it can impact your results.

If there’s a situation in which a game is off the board or lines have yet to be released, it could be that the book is waiting on some additional intel. It could be an injury situation or a playing time concern, for example.

While the basketball odds work in the same fashion for the two sports, there are some differences to be aware of based on the bet type. Let’s take a closer, starting with the bet types that move the needle for NCAA and NBA betting.

NCAAB vs. NBA betting on moneylines, spreads and totals

You’ll see the same three bet types listed in the betting lobby when you scroll through the game listings for college basketball and NBA games. Moneyline, point spread and totals wagers are the top three, which attract a good deal of betting action.

The concept for the bets is the same for both sports, but there are some differences to be aware of as you break down the games. Here’s a quick look at what you need to know.


For a moneyline wager, all you have to do is pick the winner. The odds are negative for favorites and positive for dogs, with the range between numbers indicating how close the matchup appears to be. For a college game, a line might look like this:

North Carolina  +105
Kentucky  -120

The line for this fictitious matchup is tight, but the range could be much wider when there’s a paper mismatch on tap. Over in the NBA, the moneyline bet works the same:

Miami Heat  -125
Chicago Bulls  +115

A bettor on the Heat side would have to lay $125 for a potential $100 return, while a $100 wager on the Bulls returns $115 if all goes well. The moneyline can be a great starting point for new bettors due to its simple nature.

Point spread

The point spread bet is designed to keep games interesting regardless of the potential disparity in the matchup. It’s basically an estimated margin of victory that you need to account for in your handicapping. A point spread bet might look like this:

Kansas  -1.5 (-110)
Texas Tech  +1.5 (-110)

If you bet on Kansas, then you’re looking for the Jayhawks to win by two points or more to cover the spread. Texas Tech covers by keeping it closer than that or by winning outright. Here’s an example:

Utah Jazz  +4.5 (-110)
Denver Nuggets  -4.5 (-110)

The bigger the spread, the more of a mismatch the oddsmakers are seeing. Keep in mind that spreads can move in response to betting action, so be sure to check the numbers in multiple spots before wagering.


Betting on totals is popular for both forms of hoops. Oddsmakers set a baseline total, and bettors then get to pick the over or under. For a college game, you could see a line like this:

Over  139.5 (-110)
Under  139.5 (-110)

While in a pro game, you could likely expect a higher total:

Over  202.5 (-110)
Under  202.5 (-110)

In addition to the benchmark total, there are odds attached to both sides. As with any other odds, these can move in response to betting action, so keep an eye on the movements.

Prop betting for college basketball vs. the NBA

You can click on the game listing or “more wagers” link to find additional wagering opportunities. After doing so, you’ll find a wide range of prop bets. They’re like getting in some side action bets on the game.

You’ll find some that revolve around the game as a whole or team performance. In the NBA, there will be a plethora of opportunities on specific player metrics. The college side will have fewer offerings.

Also, keep in mind that there’s no mobile wagering on in-state collegiate teams in Illinois. All other Division I programs are fair game, so you’ll still have plenty of contests options. For team and game props, you’ll see things like this:

  • Which side will have the halftime lead: Villanova or Georgetown?
  • Will overtime be needed: yes/no?
  • Which team will have more three-pointers: Rockets or Lakers?

Player props are a popular part of NBA betting. They’re based on specific accomplishments during the game. Here are a handful of examples:

  • Which Bulls player will score the first basket: Zach LaVine or other?
  • Who will have more points plus assists: James Harden or Russell Westbrook?
  • How many three-pointers will Stephen Curry make: over/under 3.5?

Live betting on NCAA basketball vs. the NBA

In-game wagering aka live betting is a fast-growing segment of the sports betting industry that affords the chance to bet along as the games play out. Things move fast, but apps from the leading sportsbooks are up to the task with odds that refresh quickly.

The market moves quickly, but you’ll typically see lots of opportunities during the average game. You’ll see updated lines and spreads, player prop opportunities, and chances to wager on quarters and halves, for example.

At online sportsbooks, there’s typically a dedicated section for live betting. You can also find current live sports betting odds by clicking on the “NCAAB” or “NBA” tabs. Live betting opens the doors to more potential profit, but remember to bet with your head and not get swept up in the action.

College basketball vs. the NBA futures market

In a nutshell, the futures market opens the doors to potentially making a profit on your season-long prognostications. Futures wagers are bets that are placed on events that will take place down the road.

For amateur and pro hoops, there are plenty of opportunities to consider. On the NCAA side, many of the most popular ones revolve around March Madness, such as which teams will reach the Final Four or win the national championship.

Over in the NBA, the postseason is a big driver, including which squad will win the next NBA Finals. There is some crossover between the two sports, as you’ll find a futures market for the following in both:

  • Team regular-season win totals
  • Conference winners
  • Clubs to make or miss the postseason

There are also futures for individual player accomplishments, such as the Player of the Year in college or the NBA MVP winner. The release of futures odds happens during the offseason. The market stays active from there, so you’ll see movement on the odds board.

The idea is to find the choices you want at the best prices, so shopping around is always recommended. College basketball futures such as the Final Four and national title get a slight edge in overall popularity, but you can find plenty of interest and action with both sports.

How to handicap college basketball games vs. NBA games

One of the biggest differences flies under the radar: rest. As mentioned, college players are generally only playing two games per week in the regular season, while the pros have a much larger workload.

Since college teams don’t play as often, there’s extra time in between games. That can be a boon for handicapping and can also lead to more reasonably predictable results. Travel and fatigue can be big issues in the NBA.

This is especially true in extreme cases when teams are playing three games in four nights. Here are some of the similar points to look into when researching both sports:

  • Presence of Superstar Players: One or two stars can have a huge impact on the court and be a difference-maker in the results.
  • Defensive Efficiency: Hoops are high-scoring by nature, but teams that can get the stops when they need to are the ones to watch in tight games.
  • True Shooting Percentage: You want to look at the whole ball of wax: free throws, field goals and three-pointers.
  • Depth of Rotation: An edge on the bench can go a long way, especially in games that project to be tight and hard-fought.
  • Recent Play: Season-long records are important, but how teams are playing of late can be a better indicator of what’s to come.

For additional differences, keep in mind that college games are lower scoring in comparison to the pro side, and that there can also be some mismatches that can lead to huge spreads. When looking at spreads and totals for both sports, be sure to review how the team has performed on those bet types in recent times and for the season to date.

What to remember about college basketball vs. NBA betting

If you’re into hoops, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied when it comes to sports betting. College basketball has a huge following from the regular season into March Madness. The same is true for the NBA, from the first tilt of the year to the NBA Finals.

There are similarities you can lean on while betting on both sports, but also some distinct points of difference. The NBA is played more often, and the games are lengthier. College teams generally get more of a break between games.

NCAA basketball is lower scoring overall, while rest and fatigue issues are more of a factor with the pros. If you make a note of the small differences and adapt as needed, you can find success with both sports. In fact, there are plenty of handicappers who do just that.

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