College Basketball Props: Best Markets to Bet On

Caleb Love North Carolina Tar Heels
Caleb Love #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after making a three-point basket against the Gardner Webb Runnin Bulldogs. Grant Halverson/Getty Images/AFP.

College basketball gives us the best end-of-season betting experience in all of sports with March Madness—nearly six dozen games packed into 10 game days, spread out over three weeks.

All of America gets in on NCAA Tournament betting, but you don’t have to wait until March, when you get handed a copy of your coworker’s tournament pool, to bet on college basketball. With a huge variety of teams, games, and betting options, there’s more than enough to keep you entertained and earning money from November until March.

Styles Make Matchups

One of the most popular ways to bet on college basketball games is to bet on the point total cutoff of a game. In this bet, you don’t care which team wins or loses. You’re looking to predict whether the total points scored by both teams combined is over or under a given cutoff amount.

While it’s important to know the quality of the teams involved in the game you’re betting on, it’s just as critical to understand their style of play, or, as basketball analytics experts put it, their pace of play.

Fast-Paced Teams = High Scores

Some teams like to run up and down the floor and score on the fast break. They force a lot of turnovers, and, because they’re going as fast as they can all the time, they also commit more than their share of turnovers. Games involving these teams are likely to be very high scoring.

Normally, teams with the best players want to play fast, to take advantage of their edge in athleticism. North Carolina and Duke are known for playing fast. This season, Gonzaga, Alabama, and Arizona are among the leaders in fast pace.

On the Flip Side

Some teams like to play very deliberately. They have stiff half-court defenses that force opponents to grind out possessions, and they use the entire shot clock on offense.

The idea is to wear down an opponent by making them play defense all night. It also frustrates them, because they know that every missed shot means another 30 seconds of watching the other team pass.

Back in the day, this was a strategy used by underdogs to limit the number of possessions in a game and increase the odds of an upset. The theory is: You’d rather play Michael Jordan to one point, instead of 100, because you may hit a lucky shot and win. But now, some top teams have adopted this strategy as well.

Virginia is famous (infamous) for using this approach. Texas Tech, Houston, and Virginia Tech also tend to slow it down.

What If They Face Each Other?

When a fast team plays a slow one, it will be a clash in styles, and it’s always easier to slow down a team than to speed one up. So look toward the under in these matchups.

For instance, when Ohio State (No. 305 in tempo) plays Duke or Purdue (No. 318) plays Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in December, look for the under to hit in both games.

The Mean Magnet

Betting on individual game point spreads is probably even more popular than betting point totals. College basketball is a game of upsets and blowouts, and to try to predict which is likely in a given game, you’ll want to become an expert in psychology.

No team can be hitting on all cylinders every game, so expect regression to the mean. That’s a fancy math way of saying the old coachspeak adage, “You’re never as good as you look when you’re winning or as bad as you look when you’re losing.”

A team coming off a huge win will have a letdown at some point, and a team that’s been scuffling will break through.

The Perfect Example

North Carolina, for instance, entered the season No. 1 in the nation after going to the national championship game in March Madness 2022. The Tar Heels return most of their top players, but in their first three games, UNC has struggled to lackluster wins.

Conventional wisdom would say that something is wrong with the Tar Heels, and the temptation might be there to bet against them in their next game. But regression to the mean says that this is still the same team that everyone thought it was, and they’ll start playing like it soon.

So you might want to take them and give the points against James Madison next time out.

Good Teams Are Good

With that in mind, it’s worth looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament. The futures market is popular in college basketball, and you can take bets that teams will make the Final Four or win the NCAA Tournament starting before the season begins.

A shocking fact that has held up over time is that one of the best predictors of who will do well in the tournament in March is … the preseason rankings. In other words, the teams expected to be good back before the season starts, usually do well in the tournament.

It basically says that ignoring everything that’s happened all season long can be a good idea. A team has struggled with injury or chemistry problems, but the talent on their roster made everyone think they’d be good? You might want to take a flier on them at tournament time.

Use the Early Reactions

It also means that you can use what you know now and get excellent NCAAB futures odds on some of the best teams in the country if you pick them for futures bets in November.

UNC has struggled. Duke and Kentucky both already have losses, but come March, they’ll likely be right there where we thought they’d be. So take advantage of people reacting to early season results to increase your payout.