Every year, college basketball season offers some of the best betting action on the market. However, there are now over 350 NCAA Division I teams across over 30 conferences. Finding a way to deal with the overwhelming volume of games and teams to handicap is perhaps the biggest challenge to anyone who wants to bet college hoops for consistent profit.
Thankfully, we’re here to help. Our ultimate betting strategy guide comes directly from experts who have put their money where their mouths are and have made their livelihood as advantage bettors for years. Below, we give you the strategies and tips you need to become a consistently profitable college basketball bettor. Whether you’re a recreational gambler looking for a few helpful tips or an aspiring professional handicapper, we guarantee that you’ll find our tips useful.
Don’t just wing it; you’re playing right into the bookmaker’s hands. Get knowledgeable with our help, and stay ahead of the books for the rest of your long and prosperous betting career.
Our guide is broken down into sections to help make things easy to find if you ever need to come back and get a refresher on a particular topic. Good to go? Let’s get started.
I. Betting on Your Terms
Before you even get to your first bets, it’s paramount that you lay the foundation for betting success with preparation. Over the long term, this is the biggest difference between winning and losing players, and the number one factor that separates the pros from the casual gamblers.
Some of the tips in this section are sports betting disciplines that can be applied to many other forms of sports betting as well. They are listed here because of how they help tackle the unique challenges that are specific to betting college hoops.
Make a Plan
The first thing you should do when betting college hoops is to make a plan of how you want to bet it. Will you be betting straight up or are you interested in parlays? Are you betting just spreads or are you betting money lines? How about game totals (or half totals)? Maybe you’ll be betting all of these things?
Finding out what you want to bet is the first step in organizing your betting system, and we highly recommend that you do this first. Again, you can do this for any sport, but this step is more important in the college hoops industry when taking into account just how many games are on the board in one night.
Once you know what you want to bet, make sure to follow this next crucial step:
No matter what sport you’re betting, keeping records is a great habit to get into. Records help you stay disciplined within your system, and they can play a great quality-control role for you and keep your betting from going off the rails.
In college basketball specifically, keeping records is one of the most important things you’ll need to do if you want to bet the game consistently and over a long period of time. In fact, many of the best minds in the college hoops business think that record keeping is the name of the game. We agree wholeheartedly—Here’s why:
1. Filter the Good Information from the Bad.
Unlike any other major sport to bet on out there, college basketball is a constant exercise in information overload. There is a huge volume of games almost every night, and for every game, there are tons of sports betting sites making predictions and lines based on all sorts of home-brewed algorithms and formulas.
There is so much information and data out there that it’s overwhelming at times, even to seasoned gamblers. From our experience, all this information is actually blessing, but only if you filter and manage it properly.
2. Keep Yourself Accountable
At the end of the day, it’s your money that’s won or lost, so the ultimate responsibility to be accountable lies with you. If you trusted a poor system and it cost you some, hey it happens—but now is the time to use some tools and shore up your game.
Record keeping will help you combat your own betting biases, and over the long-haul will help you analyze which betting habits are strong for you, and which ones are costing you money.
For this tip, the best advice we have is to do what works best for you. For some, a simple spreadsheet with a few betting trends and a notes section is all you need. Some folks like to go more advanced. Whatever you prefer, just be sure that you do SOMETHING to track this. If you do, your bankroll will find itself on the upswing more often than it will when you’re betting blind.
II. Information is King
No sports bettor wants to hear this, but the truth is that we can’t actually predict the future. There are folks out there who run so hot for so long that it can appear that way. What’s the difference between those who break even at best and those who make a fortune year after year betting sports? One word:
Data, records, memory, insight, gut – call it whatever you want. Just know that it’s all information, and it’s the name of the game.
Why Information is So Important
In a nutshell, better information will make you more money. How it does so shows you how important it is to stay on top of the sport you’re betting. Here are just a few reasons that information is so important in college hoops betting:
You check the board and see two good and evenly matched teams facing each other. One team is a huge favorite, and you can’t believe it! You rush a big bet in thinking you’re stealing money, only to tune in and find out that the team you bet is missing one or two of their best players that day. The game’s already started so you can’t get out, and you watch as your money goes up in flames. Sadness.
This could’ve been avoided. All you had to do was find the injury report.
The example above sounds really basic, and most would chalk something like that up to common sense, but it happens all the time in sports betting. This is especially true of college hoops, where one injury is all it takes to get a line moving big time.
This is sport betting information 101: DO YOUR HOMEWORK. No matter the reason. If a line looks too good to be true, it just might be. Go find out before you bet yourself into a trap. If you’re early on the information, make your decision about whether to hammer the line. If you’re late to the party, at least now you’ll know to stay away.
Overall, the big lesson here is that you can save your money and reduce your chances of making any uninformed bets by just keeping yourself informed on the basic daily going on. Money saved is indeed money earned in the sports betting game.
Better yet, you’ll feel great down the road when you see a line that should be moving but isn’t—that means the betting public hasn’t gotten wise to the information you found early by staying up to speed. In that instance, congratulations—you now know what feels like to be a sharp.
Now that you know how to avoid giving away free bets, it’s time to put your knowledge to use and start making money.
This section will give you a basic strategy for information gathering on your college hoops bets. You can apply a lot of this information across any betting platform (and we encourage you to do so), but we’ve included the tips that best suit college basketball betting strategies.
In our experience, you only need to do two things to gather expert information on college basketball. The best part is that you can have lots of fun while you do it.
#1 – Watch the Games!
Watch the games and become more knowledgeable about the teams and players. Use the knowledge to make informed bets and make money while you have fun watching sports. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? YES! Good times!
All the fun aside, it’s important to watch games. It’ not enough to just look at numbers sheets. The very best gamblers have great betting instincts that they hone by watching the games. When you do so, you can find out not only just how many points per game a player is producing, but how he produces it. You find out where people excel and where they struggle. You get an education on the immeasurable. You get the FEEL of it all.
Exactly how valuable this is to any one bettor will vary, but we guarantee that the info you get from simply watching the games is invaluable.
With re-airs, you can get important question answered in a short amount time. How athletic is player X? Why did that top-ranked team get upset? How does player A or team B play when they’re in foul trouble?
What questions you might want answered are up to you, but thanks to the wonderful Internet technology we have today, there are college basketball re-airs to be had everywhere.
From a betting perspective, we’d like to think of those games as our own personal library of betting information. Even the bookmakers and the experts have short memories from time to time, and you can get a leg up on them simply by having a longer memory than they do or caring to look for specific details in the games themselves.
#2 – Grab Data from Trusted Resources
There are a lot of ratings systems sites out there, like KenPom or TeamRankings. Each site has their own algorithm, and each system has its flaws. But they all have one thing you badly need: FREE DATA.
Don’t fall behind. Get this information. It’s extremely unlikely that you can be a consistent winner betting college hoops without using it in some minimum fashion.
Using Your Information to Make Winning Plays
Now that you’re gathering this college hoops knowledge from all over, are you wondering how to use it? We’ve got you covered! Just read on for some tips on how to apply all your knowledge to maximum effect in the betting arena.
Find Trends to Exploit
This takes a bit of effort on your part, but it’s easier than you think. In fact, you’re already doing it to some degree whenever you bet. When you make a sports bet, you’re telling the bookmaker that they got something wrong and that you’re willing to risk to make them pay for it. This is the exact same concept, just with a bit more information at your disposal, thanks to the Internet.
Finding trends doesn’t have to be just about the teams or the players—it can be ANYTHING. It can be referees. It can be time zones. It can be home vs. road splits combined with some genius idea you just had. There is no rock you can’t look under if you think it will make you money. The point is to find something that goes against the grain in a way that takes advantage of the betting industry’s everyday habits.
The great thing about all the data we have today is that, now, you can become your own expert and make tons of money betting sports, if you have the time and guile to read between the numbers and find something the books and the stats geeks haven’t.
Maybe it takes time and lots of game data to craft your system, or maybe your magic trend comes in a sudden flash of brilliance. But by golly, find something and run with it if you think you’ve found gold. You want to maximize your profits before the market corrects itself. If it never does, enjoy designing your money bin.
Filter and Organize Your Data
There’s a lot of data out there, and it goes without saying that certain statistical factors are stronger than others for purposes of betting. You want to make sure that you’re paying attention to the right stuff before making your bet. You also want to save time wherever you can and still get the data that’s most important to you.
Another reason to filter your data is because no data is perfect. We already told you that no matter where you get your information from, it’s going to be flawed in some way. To best analyze the information you’re gathering, you’ll want to see it perform against your betting expectations.
Once you find the holes in a certain system or algorithm, you can make more efficient use of it. Furthermore, you can start to fill in the gaps in their data (if possible) by making a more personalized betting sheet that fits you best.
Making your own spreadsheet or data file is a great way to filter all of the information you’re getting from other sources. You can get all the data you need from expert sources while still narrowing things down and saving time. This goes hand-in-hand with the “Keep Records tip” earlier in this guide, but it’s worth a lot of money over the long run, and it’s certainly worth reinforcing to any serious bettor.
If you don’t have time for that sort of thing, it’s no problem; we simply recommend that you try to have some kind of personal system to filter your information, and make sure that you have a way to improve that system as your betting history evolves.
III. Solid & Consistent College Basketball Betting Strategies
A great way to get consistent results that can steady your bankroll is to make sure you have a solid fundamental betting base to draw on. Every sport is different, so you want to make sure your strongest betting factors are tailored to the sport you’re betting.
Here are the most consistent factors that we’ve found for betting college basketball:
Specialize in a Conference or Region
There’s an old saying that if you chase two rabbits, you’ll lose them both. Well if that’s the case, how do you think you’ll fare chasing 350 rabbits?
With so many teams and games in college basketball, it’s impossible to follow them all by yourself and get information at the quality you need to make constantly winning bets. Amidst the daily chaos lies a significant betting edge—if you’re willing to narrow your choices and specialize.
For example, let’s say you have a favorite team, and that team is in the Big East conference. There are ten teams in that conference. Following your favorite team closely will often include following the other teams in the conference to see how they are faring in things like recruiting, coaching and how much talent they lose/retain each year. That’s nine other teams that you already have built-in homework on. There’s an edge there! Exploit it!
If you’re following the teams in that conference regularly, more often than not, you’re going to find a scenario where the betting line is ripe to be exploited. The books often use sites like KenPom and the Las Vegas Sports Consultants (aka “The Wise Men”) to come up with their lines. The bottom line is this: they have to make lines based on where they think action will land. Sometimes, this means just cranking out the industry standard data-driven line. College basketball is largely driven by betting lines like these.
Having specialized knowledge gives you an edge over this kind of bookmaking. Maybe a key starter is playing, so many algorithms will simply slot him in as “healthy,” but you know he’s tweaked up and won’t be at his best. Or maybe one team or player is playing with particularly high or low confidence for certain reasons.
Whatever the case may be, if you have solid info that makes you confidently say, “Hey, I like Site X, but their computers don’t account for…,” then you’re probably looking at an opportunity to make money against standard lines. Specializing in a few conferences rather than trying to follow as many teams as possible will provide more instances of added value against standard lines. The book won’t care because they’ll have their line to get action on both sides, but you’ll be the big winner on the day more frequently.
Keep your knowledge base compact, but expert. Information that beats the mass-produced data is how you crush betting college basketball. On that note…
National Sites Entertain. Local Sites Make You Money.
When we do our research, we value the local beat writers and bloggers who have in-depth insights about teams and conferences. Their knowledge is valuable and often lucrative. Make their knowledge your knowledge.
On the flip side, be very wary about what you read from the huge sports networks sites like ESPN, CBS or FOX. These sites are huge corporations, and their primary objective is traffic. That’s it. Their articles are written to entertain you and keep you coming back, not to give you expert advice. That’s not to say that the folks there don’t follow sports or don’t have good stuff to offer. Just be sure that you can sort out fact from fluff, be careful on which writers you trust and verify rumors or scandals that they come up with before letting it affect your bets.
Betting Your Favorite Team
Just about every sports-betting guide out there tells you to play it safe and never bet on games involving your favorite team. The logic is sound—bias for your team can lead to emotionally undisciplined, or even outright destructive, betting. They say to cut this out of your system, and you’ll remove a big money-losing trap.
We respectfully disagree, though, with a catch or two.
Being a big fan of a team and betting on them isn’t the cliché sucker bet that everyone makes it out to be. It can actually be one of the most profitable plays you’ll make over time if you can be disciplined with it. The most important thing to practice when betting your own team is to be brutally honest with yourself about how you expect the team to perform against the bet. Some people simply can’t do this (thus the common perception). If you’re one of these folks, then stick with conventional betting wisdom and STAY AWAY.
But if you have the discipline to stay honest and not overvalue your beloved club, you can find a lot of lines to exploit. You’ll know when a line is off versus when it’s spot on and shouldn’t be played. You’ll not only know when to bet for your team, but when to make money betting against them. You’ll be your own betting savant, specialized in one team (and maybe even those who play against them).
If you decide to go this route, we highly encourage that you keep records on betting your favorite team. If the results are going your way above your normal rate with other bets, you’ll have a good indicator that what works for your favorite team can be incorporated into a wider betting system, if you have the time to gather the information you need before each bet.
Small Conference Specialization is Lucrative
The books will generally have lines out for nearly every major conference team, and most of the mid-major conference games as well, as these are the most popular teams with the biggest TV audiences and fan bases.
But from a betting perspective, popularity can be just as much of a burden as it is a boon. The major conferences have large sums of money regularly bet on them. There are teams of experts around the world studying the teams and games every day, including the bookmakers. As a result, easy lines are harder to come by, and when they come in decent, it might only be by a thin margin.
Small conference lines, however, offer huge edges if you have the knowledge to properly take advantage of them. Don’t believe us? Go find some college hoops ATS stats. Every year there are a handful of teams that absolutely crush the ATS on the season. What do most of them have in common? They come from smaller conferences, where the big money simply pays less attention. There is a lot of money to be made in small conference betting.
For starters, we suggest that you pick a conference whose games you can watch easily. That often means a conference whose games are on TV where you live, or who has regular Internet broadcast access. Like mentioned earlier, you’ll want to be able to put a visual on the numbers you’re seeing in stat sheets. You’ll also want to get a feel for the intangibles, like home venues or coaching, which can play a big role in smaller conferences.
One of the big drawbacks of small conference betting is that lines are not always published every day like they are with the big conferences. This is especially true on weekends when college hoops betting markets have to compete with other sports such as football or a big boxing/MMA fight. The small conference market is way better today than it was a decade ago, and it keeps getting better every year, largely thanks to the Internet markets.
While there may be less everyday lines compared to the big schools, the good side of this is that when the lines are off, they’re WAY off. If you have knowledge that you think will beat the book on a small conference game, you’re probably right! Go get that money!
The lesson here: more lines does not mean better lines. In fact, to find the biggest edges, you might want to go small.
Find Value Betting Against the Public
Compared to the major professional sports, college basketball betting lines are significantly influenced by public perceptions. Any sharp bettor out there will tell you that wherever there’s strong public tendency one way, there’s a lot of money to be made going against it in the right spots.
Here are some of the most common tendencies to look for when analyzing your bets:
Overvaluing of the Most Popular Teams
When you think college basketball, what teams come to mind? Why, if you said Duke, UNC, Syracuse, UCLA, Michigan State or Kentucky, you’re not alone. You’re really not alone.
It’s no secret that these are the biggest national brands in the college basketball industry right now. When the tournament concludes in April and everyone turns their attention elsewhere, these are generally the only schools that still get regular love and coverage from the national media outlets. As a result, lines are often wildly inflated in favor of these schools on a regular basis.
This is especially true in the beginning of the season when no one really knows how some hyped-up freshman will perform or when bettors finally throwing in their action in to start the season just throw it at the big name schools. It sounds dumb, but it happens year after year after year.
Instead of following the herd, take advantage of their habits. If a big name school is playing a solid club early in the year that doesn’t get as much publicity, be ready to jump on a line that overvalues the popular brand.
For example, see a November line of Kentucky vs. Decent Club U. and the line is -18.5? There’s a reason for that; it’s called, ‘there’s a lot of dumb money out there saying “I ain’t seen Decent Club on TV in a while. They must be no good. Big Blue by 20.”’ Please go win this money.
The books put the line that high knowing they’ll get the action on both sides anyway. Decent club doesn’t have to win; they just have to cover a ridiculous line. And that line is going to be there every single year thanks to casual fans not knowing any better (no pun intended). This time around, be on the sharp side, and get a nice payday for all the reading you put in during the offseason.
Big Major Team vs. Mid-Major/Small Conference Team
This kind of plays off of the last tip, just a bit more generally. Again, the public perception that’s being leveraged here is that the small schools simply can’t hang with the big boys. These huge lines are everywhere during the November and December non-conference games, where most of these small teams play the bigger schools on the road.
If you know a small club is sneaky good, or a big team is still figuring out its identity (maybe from lots of new, younger players), the cover value is definitely there in a big way. A great spot to exploit is when a small school with lots of seniors plays a big-time school that is young overall, or graduated its top players, but is still getting lots of offseason/early season hype.
The big thing with following this tip is to make sure you’re doing your homework on where the value is before placing your bets. This is definitely an area of positive EV when you find the right games and matchups, but the books are smart; not all of these lines are as sweet as they appear. Just be sure you’ve done your due diligence before you bet, and you’ll catch the book slipping up way more than they catch you.
IV. College Basketball Intangibles: The Winning Edge
College basketball is filled with magical moments (including that shining one at the end). There are highs, lows, court-storming upsets and chalky brackets. But when the money is on the line, do you believe it’s all magic? Or is it just that certain something that’s observable, but not perfectly measurable?
The intangible elements that make college basketball so fun to watch also make for some of the best betting trends and things to watch out for. The best part about the intangible stuff is that you can run fantastically well when you’re in tune with what’s going on.
The elite players in any sport or industry will tell you that it’s all about how you perform on the margins, and we totally agree. We think that keeping a keen eye on certain intangibles can mean the difference between winning and losing, so we’ve listed some here.
Everyone has their own opinion or weight on these factors, and they’re super fun to talk about with friends or other sports bettors. However you slice it, have fun and find your winning edge! (In no particular order)
Home Court Advantage
What sets college basketball apart from the other sports is the complete lack of consensus on what home court advantage is worth. We all agree that it’s worth something, but the claims of advantage range from 3 to 6 points depending on who you ask. Four points is a massive range. By contrast, the big argument in NFL home-field advantage is whether home field is worth 3 or 3.5 points.
We’re not here to make a specific claim on what the number should be in college basketball. On the contrary, we think that all of the folks along that huge spectrum are correct, and that’s the point.
If you take one tip away from this section, let it be this: Stop paying attention to the national average.
Home court advantage experts agree that home court varies by school. But to this day, they measure it all wrong. They simply take the mean of all the numbers and spit out the national D1 average. This isn’t bad math, but the number doesn’t tell the whole story well enough to be trustworthy.
If you can find lists of home court advantage by school, that’s a far better start. We don’t think that any one model ever truly has (or will get) home court advantage perfectly right in college basketball. There are simply too many moving pieces, and they change every season.
We do think there is a way to get a major step ahead of the simple math that’s out there. That’s huge because the macro-level numbers are a big influencer in determining the eventual opening line. If you can outmaneuver the books just by crunching an extra number, you can make large gains on a consistent basis.
To stay ahead of the bookmakers on home-court advantage, make sure to understand the following:
Constantly changing home court advantage has countless reasons, and explaining it is probably pointless. Your best bet is to just observe as much as you can and get a feel for why a particular school’s number is where it is.
The great thing about enlightening yourself on home court advantage in college hoops betting is that once you get into the habit of customizing your number, you’ll be ahead of a lot of bookmakers that simply make their own in-house number and go. You’ll start finding line shopping opportunities everywhere, and some lines just waiting to be crushed.
This one is probably the easiest home court factor to explain. All of those scared freshmen? Not so scared anymore. They’ve gone through a season’s worth of road environments and travel. They might not be grizzled, but at a minimum, they’re not doe-eyed out there as much as they were earlier in the season. Another reason is that teams are just more set in their ways, and the venue isn’t going to change that as much anymore.
Again, notice how this tip is also about keeping an eye on the road team when determining your home court number.
Our general advice for betting rivalry games is this: the play depends on the rivalry. The big thing with rivalry games is to avoid overplaying a line by letting your emotions override your good betting habits. This can sound a bit perplexing when you consider that high emotions are the source of the betting value!
There are always some great rivalry bets out there, but the edge is in finding out which games to hammer, and which games to stay away from. For the most part, you want to go about your normal betting routine for rivalry games, but with a few filters to help you find the best targets.
That’s not to say that these big games can’t offer value; it’s just that sometimes the blueblood teams are more used to big games, so they might not get super emotional for a rivalry game like other programs might be. If you want to find value plays for home teams, bad blood is a great indicator. Not only is it a natural motivator for the teams, but fan bases can also get more rabid in-game and help home court edges get even edgier.
How do you find bad blood? Pay less attention to media folks who are paid to hype stuff up and pay attention to what the players and coaches are saying about the upcoming game. Also, be aware of the stakes. Is there a revenge factor at play? Who won the last game, and how motivated is the losing club to avenge their loss?
Is the game for true in-state bragging rights, or is it just a rivalry born out of both teams being in the same conference and performing well? All things the same, we’ll bet the bragging rights home team far more often.
Reading Schedules for Value
If you’ve ever predicted a club’s win/loss record just by looking at their schedule, then you know what we’re getting at here. As a season unfolds, schedules start to tell a story that can help you predict future game outcomes. Players and coaches are people too, and they’re prone to habits that can be exploited on the betting boards if you stay in tune with what’s going on. Here are some of our favorite schedule trends to look out for:
They might be on TV, but these kids aren’t pros; they’re college students zipping all across the country playing ball. Most of the time, programs make an effort to schedule cupcakes following a big tournament far from home, but it doesn’t always go that way. Conference play can also be brutal for a team if they’ve been given multiple road games in a row to deal with, or have to zigzag, alternating between home games and far-away opponents in short space.
The bottom line is that if you think a team is a bit beat up and they have a daunting schedule ahead of them, you might be looking at a nice value play, even if it’s only for one game.
They happen all the time. A decent club is hosting a big-time ranked opponent on Saturday, and it’s going to be a great game. All they have to do is get past an underdog on the Wednesday night road game and they’re sailing smooth.
Welcome to the classic trap game.
Finding these games requires a good nose on your part. Big game coming up + road tilt vs. hungry opponent doesn’t automatically mean a team will lose or fail to cover. You want to have a good idea of the pulse of the teams you’re betting first, but the value is there if you smell a trap game and you catch the book sleeping on the opening line.
Letdowns & Bounce-back Games
Another great value bet can be teams coming off of a big win or crushing loss. For unranked underdogs, a huge overtime win at home over a ranked opponent is awesome! It can also be emotionally draining. How about that next game two days later? If the bookmakers or computer models take the big win and give a team too much credit, you can find great value in betting the letdown.
This also rings true for teams needing to respond to bad losses (or just adversity in general). We like to save these bets for teams with respected coaches who have a reputation for knowing how to motivate their players. If you think a team has what it takes to bounce back from a big loss, or is in desperation mode to save their season, you might want to give them a look—especially if the books are giving them little respect on the betting line.
ATS Stats are Unfound Gold
ATS = Against the Spread.
There is nothing wrong with a team getting lucky a couple of times or going on a good run. But when a team is something like 12-2-1 or 3-11 ATS midway through a season, it is a huge indicator that the odds experts simply don’t have a handle on that team. In such a case, the race is on. Go watch replays, find out what they’re missing and hammer them the next time they make the same mistake.
Better yet, use the ATS stats to find systemic flaws. Maybe you’ll find that a bunch of imbalanced ATS stats are coming in from one small conference. There is nothing more beautiful than finding out early that the sports book can’t find an accurate line for NEC or Big West games.
V. Wrapping it All Up
There are so many great factors to consider when making your college hoops bets that we can’t possibly list them all. We hope our guide helped get you started at least, and we’re rooting for you to find that great nuance of the college game that beats the books and swells your bankroll.
No matter what happens, remember to have fun and enjoy the great action!