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How to Bet on Basketball | NCAAB and NBA Handicapping Tips

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Everything You Need to Know to Make Money Betting on Basketball

Generally speaking, college and professional football are the same game. The field is the same. The length of the game is the same. With the exception of a few outliers (i.e. teams running the triple option), the game is generally played the same way.

The same can’t be said for college and professional basketball. The length of the game is different. The foul limit is different. The three-point line is different. The shot clock is different. The styles of play are different. College and professional basketball are two completely different games, and need to be handicapped as such.

NBA vs. College Basketball Betting

When betting on the NBA, you’re going to hear the term “situational handicapping” a lot. The players that are in the NBA are the best-of-the-best. From a talent perspective, there isn’t much that separates the top of the league from the bottom on a nightly basis. But the 82-game NBA schedule tends to offer situational angles that can be beneficial for bettors. Has a team just returned home from a long road trip? Is a star player likely to sit when his team plays back-to-back games? Are teams potentially tanking for a better draft pick at the end of the season? These are all angles to consider when betting on the NBA that don’t necessarily involve x’s and o’s on the court.

In college basketball, talent, and playing style are much bigger handicapping factors. There are over 350 Division 1 basketball teams. Obviously, not all of them are created equal. Playing styles can differ drastically in college basketball. Some teams play strictly zone defense. Some teams play at a slow pace and reduce the game’s possessions. Some teams rely heavily on the three-pointer. You can get a wide variety of playing styles from conference to conference and team-to-team. Handicapping college basketball requires some knowledge of those intricacies and how they affect the point spread and total. If you are pressed for time and resources, consider specializing in a handful of conferences and becoming an expert on those teams instead of focusing on the whole college basketball landscape.

Basketball Betting: Getting Started

When looking to bet on a basketball game, there are four key pieces of information that you need to focus on: The rotation number, the point spread, the total, and the moneyline.

The rotation number is a 3-digit number that you’ll see in front of the team names. Ticket writers at most sports books speak in numbers, not team names. They rely on that rotation number to eliminate all confusion between themselves and the bettor. Know the rotation number of the game that you are interested in betting.

The point spread: When looking at the odds board, the favorite will be displayed with a minus sign in front of the spread. That is the number of points that team has to win the game by in order to cover the spread. You won’t see a number for the other team, the underdog, because it’s understood that they are receiving the same number of points. The underdog can lose the game, as long as it’s not by more than the points they are being given.

The total: You can wager on the “over” or the “under” in regards to how many total points will be scored in the contest between both teams.

The moneyline: Moneyline bets are displayed on a $100 scale, with the favorite having a minus displayed in front of their number, and the underdog having a plus in front. Betting on the moneyline means that your team just needs to win the game. There are no point spreads involved.

Basketball Betting Terminology You Need to Know

Juice (or Vig) – It’s how the sports books keep their lights on: The charge for making your bet. When making a point spread bet on a basketball game, most sports books set the juice at -110. That means that you need to lay $110 to win $100 (collect $210). You need to lay $11 to win $10 (collect $21).
Push – Your wager ended in a tie. If you bet on a 7-point favorite and they won the game by seven, you’re getting your initial wager back. If you bet on the game going over 210 points and it finished 110-100, you’re getting your initial wager back.
Future Wager – Betting on a long-term event. Future wagers can be team-related, such as winning a division, conference, or league championship. Or, they could be for an individual to win an MVP award, Rookie of the Year, etc..
Parlay – A parlay is a multi-wager bet that requires all of the legs to win in order for you to cash your ticket. The more teams you include, the more money you can potentially win.
Teaser – A teaser is a special kind of parlay where the bettor gets assistance on the point spread for a decreased payout. The most common basketball teaser is a 4-point, two-team teaser. The bettor selects two teams, and gets four points added or subtracted from each of their point spreads. If you are looking at a 6-point underdog, a 4-point teaser would now give them ten points in the game. If you are looking at an 8-point favorite, a 4-point teaser would now require them to win the game by more than four points instead of eight. Each leg of the teaser has to hit in order for the ticket to cash.
Team Totals – An over/under bet, but only on one team, not both. You are only wagering on how many points one particular team scores in a contest, not the total for both.

What’s the Moneyline in Basketball Betting?

Some casual bettors don’t want to worry about the point spread or the over-under, they want to pick a winner. Betting on the moneyline means you’re just picking the winner of the game, with no point spread or other factors involved. Since there is no point spread involved, betting on the favorite requires you to bet more to win a desired amount on the moneyline. Conversely, betting on an underdog on the moneyline will earn a larger profit.

If you are looking to play the favorite on the moneyline, the number that you see is the amount that you need to lay in order to win $100. If you are betting on a -200 favorite, you need to lay $200 to profit $100, and you would collect $300. If you are betting on the underdog, the number that you see is the amount that you would win off a $100 bet. If you are looking to play a +175 underdog on the moneyline, you would lay $100 to profit $175 and collect $275. Again, there are no point spreads involved, you are simply picking the winner of the game.

What Do Spreads Mean in Basketball? How do They Work?

The point spread is the great equalizer. Who would want to bet on a basketball game between the best team in the league and the worst? The outcome gets a lot more interesting when you give the bad team a 15-point head start. Betting on the favorite with the point spread requires that team to win the contest by a certain amount of points. Betting on the underdog with the point spread will allow that team to lose the contest, as long as it’s not by more than the posted number.

What Does Over/Under Mean in Basketball Betting?

You are wagering on how many total points both teams will score in the contest. Pro basketball totals are relatively stable within a relatively constant range. The majority of pro basketball totals fall between 215 and 225. College basketball totals are very fluid. Because of the wide range in playing styles from conference to conference, it’s not uncommon to see slower-paced games with a total in the 120’s, with faster teams playing games in the 160s. You are placing a wager on whether or not the total points scored between both teams in the contest will go “over” or “under” that number.

How to Bet on the NBA Playoffs

Betting on the NBA regular season requires a little bit of amateur psychology. You have to get a feel for which nights a team might not be firing on all cylinders, whether it be because of a travel spot or injuries. Generally speaking, those go out the door in the playoffs. You’re getting each team’s best effort for every game. What does that mean? Lower-scoring, tighter games. Teams are giving maximum effort on defense, especially in the second halves of games. It also breeds familiarity. Teams in the same division play each other four times during the regular season. If they meet in a seven-game series in the playoffs, they could end up seeing each other 10+ times during the course of the year.