6 Tips for Betting College Basketball Early in the Season

NCAA College Basketball Betting

College basketball is one of the most complicated sports to bet on, especially early in the regular season. The good news? This difficulty means that if you do your homework, you can get a huge advantage over the rest of the sports gambling public.

College basketball betting presents a unique challenge when compared to pro sports or even college football.

The reason is that roster turnover is so high among top-tier programs as game-changing players leave after one season for the NBA.

Also, players who feel as if they aren’t being given a chance to perform will transfer. These moves completely change the landscape of each conference, every year. While casual fans might be more interested in wagering on the marquee games, there’s plenty of money to be made in the “mid-major” conference arena as well.

In this article, I’ll dive into a few things to take into consideration before placing a bet on a college basketball game early in the season.

1. Recruiting

Yes, I know this one is obvious. But, if you’re being honest with yourself, how many times have you evaluated a team’s recruiting class before betting on a game?

Early in the season, teams are typically still figuring out how to mesh with one another on the court, and talent becomes extremely important when all else breaks down.

Zion Williamson Flexing While At Duke

One player has the ability to take over a game in the closing minutes and single-handedly changing the outcome.

Do a little digging and do your best to find out which team has the best player. While this might not be enough to make you choose a lesser team over a superior team, if you’re on the fence and all other things seem equal, go with the talent every time.

2. Check Returning Starters

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a huge amount of roster turnover from year-to-year among the country’s top teams. That means there’s a huge opportunity for teams that are returning multiple starters to capitalize against teams who are playing together for the first time.

When you’re comparing two teams without much historical data from the current season, check out how the current roster performed in the previous year.

Please Note:
If you notice that a team is returning several starters from the prior season, this could mean a distinct advantage, especially early in the season. Comparing the starters who played together the year before isn’t necessarily the only way to find a differentiating factor between the two teams. Even if players didn’t start together, there can still be a high level of familiarity between teammates.

A great stat to get this information is the minutes-per-game played the year before. Teams with several players who averaged 15 or more minutes-per-game in the previous year should be considered “experienced” if you’re looking to check the box.

It might seem like sportsbooks will account for this information, but this is a great time to remind you that the public moves the odds. Vegas might have the inside info, but the public often bets without doing the necessary research.

3. Coaching Matters

College basketball is known for its legendary coaches. Coach K, Bill Self, John Calipari, Roy Williams, the list goes on. These coaches have a tremendous impact on young teams and can be the difference between a win and a loss when two evenly-matched teams play each other.

Early in the year, players have a tendency to try to overperform in an attempt to assert themselves to their teammates and the rest of the country. Unfortunately, this can backfire if they aren’t reigned in.

Coaches who have a historical appeal to athletes seem to have more success in calming players down and getting them to play within the system that has proved successful over the years.

Mike Krzyzewski Pointing Fingers

If it seems like the majority of the top teams usually go half the season undefeated or with only one loss, it’s because that’s accurate.

While there’s no question that it’s important to consider coaching all season long, it has a particularly high impact in the early going before players have had a chance to get comfortable. If all else seems equal, go with the team who has the better head coach.

4. Play the Odds

This isn’t necessarily specific to the early part of the season, but it’s especially important because you can get a big advantage over the public when information is still relatively limited.

Typically, the public tends to bet on favorites. It makes sense, when you really break it down, it’s betting on the better team. Don’t fall into this trap! Tremendous value can be found in betting on underdogs, especially on the moneyline.

Please Note:
As I’ve mentioned previously, early in the season, having a team that is experienced playing together is a tremendous advantage. That can mean a team with lesser talent and experience playing together can beat a team with better talent and little experience playing together. Try to find underdogs at around +200 to +150, which means they still have a decent chance to win.

If the game is between an experienced underdog and an inexperienced favorite, pulling the trigger on a few of those underdogs could prove profitable.

Keep in mind that your goal is to grow your bankroll, not necessarily to win games. If you’re able to win five or six games at around +200 to +150, it’ll leave you in the green even if you lose more than 50% of your games.

5. Look for Trap Games

Most good teams spend the early part of their season playing teams that qualify more as a warm-up than real competition. That means players can easily get caught looking ahead to better opponents and slip up during a game that should be an easy win.

Trap games are a phenomenon that can be seen throughout all sports at all levels. The idea is that teams overlook certain games because an upcoming (or theoretically, a past) game has their attention. Right before conference play begins, many teams have proven to be particularly susceptible to losing against inferior opponents.

Retrievers And Virginia Tech NCAA Basketball

When you’re breaking down a game and deciding which way you want to bet, check out each team’s schedule and look at when the next “big” game is for each team. If they’ve played a string of bad or average teams but their following game is a big one, consider going the other way.

Don’t forget about the trap game theory as the season continues because it’s a useful consideration throughout the season. It just happens more often in the early going as teams haven’t yet played consistently good competition.

6. Don’t Neglect Small Conference Teams

The top-tier programs are the ones who get hit hardest by the NBA and transferring each year. For teams with no NBA prospects or transfers, there’s a unique amount of consistency from year to year.

The difficulty with betting on college basketball early in the season is that you simply don’t know what you’re getting with most teams.

However, smaller conference teams have a better track record of returning players from the year before.

If you’re able to find a matchup between two smaller conference teams that each returned the majority of their players, you can get a much better feel for the game.

It’s always prudent to get to know the small conference teams. Sportsbooks make their money on games with a lot of action, so if you’re smart, you can capitalize on games that are largely being ignored by the public.


While most bettors look forward to making their money during the tournament, you can be profitable on the other end of the season with these tips. Remember, much is unknown early in the year, so it’s crucial to do the necessary research to give yourself an edge over the public.

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Rex Hoffman / Author

Rex Hoffman is a passionate sports writer, with over five years of experience covering sports journalism in line with the Vegas betting landscape. His favorite subjects include football, basketball, and baseball. As a Las Vegas resident, he enjoys finding an edge against the local sportsbooks and aims to share his extensive knowledge with both beginners and experienced bettors. Rex also dabbles in horse racing wagering and enjoys typical casino fare like blackjack and poker in his spare time.