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Baylor celebrates their 2021 Final Four victory.
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, basketball fans. With the NBA Playoffs just around the corner, we’re about to be blessed with wall-to-wall basketball coverage as the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments tip-off. March Madness is upon us and with many fans now able to wager on games via legalized sports betting in their state, we thought this would be a great time to fill you in on everything you can bet on during College Basketball’s finest hour, the NCAA Tournament.

Selection Sunday is over and we’re inching closer and closer to tip-off, so let’s get started! But first, a word of caution. With March Madness games getting wall-to-wall coverage from all the major networks, March is truly a sports bettors paradise. However, we would not be doing our job correctly if we didn’t warn those who may have a history of gambling addiction that help is only a call or click away. Part of the reasoning behind legalized sports betting is to keep bettors safe from offshore shady websites and from the struggles of finding yourself too deep. Apps like DraftKings and FanDuel will offer fans a reality check when they’re on the app for too long, as a way to keep their users safe. If you need help, here’s a list of resources available to you.

How Do You Bet on NCAA Basketball Games?

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First, let’s discuss the differences between betting on sports at the college and professional levels. If you’ve ever played daily fantasy sports and have crafted a college football or basketball lineup, you’ll know that there are some significant differences. Player prop bets are not available for college athletics, including NCAA basketball, which may put off some bettors who love a good over/under on rebounds or assists. In the end, this is a good call by everyone involved.

As we’ve seen in multiple instances of points shaving over the years, because college athletes can be put into difficult positions by boosters and other nefarious characters, it’s best to remove any doubt from the equation. Player prop bets are out, individual game betting is in. End of story.

Also, depending on the state you’re wagering from, you may not be able to place a bet on your favorite team. For example, New Jersey law prohibits wagering on games that involve schools within state lines or games that take place within the Garden State.

So if you are a New Jersey resident who was hoping to bet on Rutgers during their play-in game against Notre Dame, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you may want to shift that wager to Indiana/Wyoming in one of the first four games. On the flip side, other states such as Connecticut allow betting on in-state schools so long as that particular school is playing in an intercollegiate tournament, such as March Madness.

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What is the Best Way to Bet on College Basketball?

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All of your favorite wagers are still available when it comes to College Basketball, especially if you love the fundamentals. Moneyline bets, spread bets and total point wagers are all green-lit and offered by your favorite online sportsbook. For those of you who are new to the online sports betting world, here’s a little cheat sheet to get you up to speed on how to read all the March Madness odds you can wager on.

Moneyline Bets

A moneyline bet is the simplest bet. I think this team will win. Period. End of sentence. However, moneyline bets aren’t always the most lucrative to make. For example, if we take a look at our March Madness bracket, in the first round there’s a matchup between Gonzaga and Georgia State. You may have a good feeling that Gonzaga will take home a resounding win on their way to a potential Final Four run. History would support that conclusion, but if you were to bet $10 on Gonzaga, you may only win $1 for a payout of $11 depending on the betting odds. Not ideal. With moneyline bets, or outright bets as they are commonly referred to, it pays to bet on an underdog upset.

Seriously, moneyline bets are super simple and multiple bets can be added together to create a full-day parlay or even one for an entire round all the way up to the big dance. Want to wager on Michigan, North Carolina, Kansas, Providence, Villanova, Arkansas and Baylor to all advance to the second round? Congratulations, you just created a multi-leg parlay.

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Point Spreads

“Covering the spread.” You’ve definitely heard those words before, but what does that mean? Did Kentucky put saran-wrap on the veggie platter, or did they win their first-round matchup by 12 or more points? It all depends on context, but let’s look at the latter definition. Let’s say you want to place a bet on Auburn to win their first-round matchup against Jacksonville State. Feels like a good matchup, and Auburn has some ground to make up after an unceremonious exit from the SEC conference tournament. You open your favorite online sportsbook app, and you see that Auburn has a -13 next to their name and Jacksonville State has a +13.

Those numbers are the spreads for each, and you would be wagering on those two numbers. For Auburn, you’d be betting that the Tigers would send Jacksonville State packing by 13 points or more. If Auburn wins by 10 or 12 points, your bet would settle unsuccessful. However, if you think Jacksonville has some tenacity and is ready to put up a fight, you can bet their spread of +13. If you were to take Jacksonville State’s spread, your bet would win if they won the game or lost by 13 points or less. Interesting, right? Point spread betting can make even the most boring blowout a little bit more exciting.

Total Points

So we’ve gone from “I’m betting on this team to win the game no matter what” to “I’m betting on Purdue to win by X amount of points, or that Texas Tech loses by X amount of points or less,” which only leaves Total Points left in the Holy Trinity of sports betting. Total Points is a pretty easy concept to understand but can be hard to master. An online sportsbook will set a points total for a specific game. Let’s say it’s Arkansas vs. Vermont. With a point total set at 140.5, you would be wagering that the total points scored by point teas would equal less than 140 (the Under) or more than 141 (the Over). Pretty simple, right? Over/Under bets tend to be that way, but be careful a blowout can still fail to cross the over threshold. I’ve seen grown men weep thanks to a missed over. It’s not pretty.

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More Advanced Bets for College Hoops

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Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about some other, more eccentric and exciting bets that online betting sites offer to bettors. While the classic lineup of moneyline, spread bet and total points for a full game is exciting enough, bettors can also wager all three bet types on each half separately. That’s right, if you feel like Iowa or Duke is a first-half team only, you can bet on them to win the first half, but not the entire ball game. I told you these would get exciting. Betting both halves, plus an overarching full-game result wage could make things interesting, especially as games get closer to the Final Four.

Even more specific than halves is team-specific point totals. This one isn’t as intriguing as separate half bets, but what team-specific point totals offer bettors is the chance to bet on a team’s offense or on their opponent’s defense. Think about the incredible Butler/UConn national championship game. You would have looked at Butler’s suffocating defense throughout their tournament run, consistently bet the under on their opponent’s total points and reaped the rewards every single time. Sometimes, in the world of sports betting, it’s not about what you’re actually betting on that truly defines a bet. 

Outside of the three major March Madness Tournament bet types (moneyline, spread, total points) online sportsbooks offer two other betting markets, as they’re referred to in the industry, which are “Race to X Points” and Margin of Victory.

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Margin of Victory is exactly what it sounds like: Pick a team to win and place a wager on the range of points they could win by. On FanDuel sportsbook, these ranges are offered between 1-10 points and 11+ points. While this bet type may seem like a cousin of spread betting, that’s mostly correct, except in this case it’s actually a combination of spread betting and moneyline wagering. So rather than betting that Arizona will win their first-round matchup by 11 or more points, I can wager that the Wildcats will win and the margin of victory will be between 1-10 points. It’s a mix and match of the two bet types. You can also use margin of victory betting to add a cherry on top of a large spread bet. In that same Arizona game, if you’re already betting that Arizona will win by 11 or more points, why not toss a margin of victory on top of that, and make a little two-leg parlay for yourself. 

Race to X Points is another “it’s exactly what it says it is” type of bet. Similar to first bucket bets in the NBA, these bets center around which team hits a specific scoring target first. So if you are wagering on a game that involves Illinois, who always comes out hot in the first half, you can bet on them reaching early point totals first without worry. However, as we pointed out in spread bets, the odds for the underdog going on an early run tend to have some higher upside for bettors.  

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With March Madness games getting wall-to-wall coverage from all the major networks, March is truly a sports bettors paradise. However, we would not be doing our job correctly if we didn’t warn those who may have a history of gambling addiction that help is only a call or click away. Part of the reasoning behind legalized sports betting is to keep bettors safe from offshore shady websites and from the struggles of finding yourself too deep. Apps like DraftKings and FanDuel will offer fans a reality check when they’re on the app for too long, as a way to keep their users safe. If you need help, here’s a list of resources available to you.

What are Some Tips for Betting on Basketball?

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard calls out a play against Wisconsin.
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March Madness is a special time of the year, so don’t sit on the sidelines when you can get in on the action. It’s truly never been easier to place a wager on college basketball, but if you’re starting out, we recommend small wagers when learning how everything works. Never bet more than 3 percent of your sportsbook balance, stick to moneyline wagers at first and then branch out to spread bets and total points in small amounts. There’s no bad way to bet, no in-depth strategy needed, just a gut feeling and some cash to burn. 

Welcome to the future of sports spectating, ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy the ride and please bet responsibly. 

MORE: College Basketball Referees Don’t Make Anywhere Near Enough

Justin Colombo is a 2017/18 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS, making him the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin's still here waiting for the New York Mets and the Sacramento Kings to win rings. Current Walk-Up Song: "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" by Celine Dion

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