How to bet on college basketball

By Josh Appelbaum  (VSiN reporter) 

Many recreational bettors wait until March Madness to fill out brackets and get down on college hoops. But wise guys can’t wait to start betting on Day 1 in early November.

Similar to the NBA and pro and college football, college hoops is predominantly a spread and over/under sport. Assuming standard -110 juice, this means bettors need to win 52.38% of their plays to break even. Anything above that means you’re turning a profit. 

However, college basketball is much different from the NBA for several reasons. First, you’re betting on college athletes, not professionals. College teams play only about 30 regular-season games compared with the NBA’s 82. College games are two 20-minutes halves, while the NBA plays four 12-minute quarters. 

But most of all, college is unique due to the sheer number of teams competing in Division I — a whopping total of 353. This means not all games are created equal and, as a result, should be approached differently. A nationally televised game between North Carolina and Duke will get massive action, while an under-the-radar matchup between Vermont and Albany will attract almost zero public betting. This is a gift and a curse. The popular, heavily bet games provide excellent contrarian value to shaded lines and a soft, recreational market on which to capitalize. On the other hand, a low-bet game has nonexistent contrarian value, but sharp line moves are easier to spot because only pros with an edge are betting Incarnate Word-Abilene Christian under, driving down the total from 145 to 142. 

Let’s discuss a few profitable tips to get bettors started on the right foot (historical data according to Bet Labs Sports).

Neutral-court unders: Many teams play early-season tournaments, such as the Maui Invitational. These games are on neutral courts. Historically, neutral courts provide a huge edge to betting unders. Why? Because young college athletes are not used to the unfamiliar surroundings, including the backboards, courts and shooting backdrops. Since 2005, unders played on a neutral court have gone 1,745-1,517 (53.5%), winning 107.93 units. A $100 bettor taking every neutral-court under would be up $10,793. When the neutral-court total is high (150 or more), the under improves to 56.4% ( 94.2 units).

Good field-goal-shooting unders: Public bettors love taking overs because they want to see a fun, high-scoring game and cash in the end. The sportsbooks know this public bias and will shade lines to the over. This creates a buy-low opportunity to contrarian bettors to sweat inflated unders. This is especially true with two teams that shoot well from the floor. The public says they make a lot of their shots, so the total must go over. But the exact opposite is true. When both teams have field-goal percentages of 45% or higher, the under has gone 2,368-2,015 (54%), winning 187.1 units. 

High-total, big-spread unders: In the NBA, a high total is considered about 220 or higher. In college it’s more like 150. When a home team is a big favorite (-15 or more) and the total is 150 or higher, the under has gone 553-457 (54.8%), winning 55.37 units since 2005. Chances are the home team will be up big and take its foot off the gas late, leading to low-scoring garbage time. 

Low-total overs: It may seem obvious, but when a total is super low, the over has cashed at a high rate. Since 2005, when the total is 115 or less, the over has gone 269-205 (56.8%), winning 47.29 units. The only downside is that it’s a relatively rare occurrence to see such a low total. 

Bet against the public in big conference games: Going contrarian is a smart long-term strategy because more often than not, the public loses, and the house always wins. But you can bet against the public only in big games that feature heavy public action. A good rule of thumb is to look for nationally televised games featuring big-name schools and ranked teams. Also, focus on big conference showdowns such as the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East and Pac 12. If the public is heavy on one side in these matchups, backing the contrarian dog has added value.

Big road conference dogs: Conference play doesn’t begin for most schools until about Christmas. This is when the season really heats up and we get great rivalry games, especially on Saturdays. Conference play provides a big edge to underdogs. The built-in familiarity levels the playing field and benefits the team getting points, especially if they are on the road because the public overvalues home-court advantage. Since 2005, road conference dogs getting 10 points or more have gone 3,452-3,142 ATS (52.4%), winning 126.87 units. If the road conference dog is 20 or more, it’s 252-200 ATS (55.8%, 39.29 units).

Bet against top-ranked teams: Public bettors love betting on highly ranked teams. This leads to shaded and inflated lines, providing added value to bet against these teams, especially Top 5 teams. Since 2005, conference dogs have gone 615-530 ATS (53.7%, 51.05 units) against Top 5 teams.

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