Sports Betting 101: College Basketball Basics Ahead Of March Madness

Written By Martin Derbyshire on February 12, 2019 - Last Updated on June 8, 2022
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With most NCAA conference tournaments about a month away and March Madness tipping off right after, now is the perfect time to get a good grasp of the college basketball betting basics.

The American Gaming Association estimates Americans bet more than $10 billion on March Madness annually. Up until this year, most of that was bet illegally, through illegal bookies, offshore online sportsbooks, and NCAA tournament bracket sheets in office and bar pools. However, that’s about to change dramatically.

Legal US college basketball betting

Since June 2018, no less than six states have joined Nevada in launching legal sports betting. Plus, you don’t need to be a resident of Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Rhode Island to bet on college basketball there. You just need to be over 21 and at a licensed sportsbook inside state lines.

In Nevada and New Jersey, you can even bet on college basketball through online and mobile sports betting apps from wherever you are inside either state. (Keep in mind that New Jersey does not allow wagering on New Jersey college teams or college basketball games played inside the state.)

Additionally, you’re going to want to get a good understanding of how to bet on college basketball before you do it.

Basic college basketball bets

Legal US sportsbooks offer a variety of basic bets on college basketball games, including:

  • Moneylines – You pick winners and get paid based on odds set by sportsbooks if they win. You’ll find a positive (+) number posted beside the underdog and a negative (-) number beside the favorite. The positive number indicates how much each $100 bet will earn if the underdog wins. The negative number indicates how much you’ll need to bet on the favorite to earn $100 plus your bet back.
  • Spreads – You pick the winner with a line set by sportsbooks factored into the final score. The spread equals how many points you’ll have to either take away from the favorite’s final tally or add to the underdog’s. Underdogs don’t need to win the actual game, they just need to lose by less than the spread. Favorites must cover the spread.
  • Totals – You decide if the final score of a game will be over or under a line set by sportsbooks.
  • Futures – Traditionally, you bet on a team to win a title at the start of the season. However, sportsbooks will take futures bets throughout the regular season and into the post-season on teams in the running to win either a conference tournament or the NCAA tournament.
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College basketball parlays

Legal US sportsbooks will also allow you to book parlays, which are a combination of two or more bets. Parlays pay better than individual bets. However, you must win every single bet that is part of the parlay for the parlay to pay.

For example, on Feb. 7 one FOX Bet customer put together a 10-team college basketball parlay.

He took the moneyline on:

  • Cincinnati over Memphis
  • Houston over Central Florida
  • Oral Roberts over Denver
  • Old Dominion over UAB
  • Iowa over Indiana
  • Hawaii over Long Beach State
  • San Diego over Loyola Marymount
  • Washington over Arizona
  • Wofford over East Tennessee State
  • Nebraska of Omaha over South Dakota

All ten picks proved correct and he won $44,584.12 on just a $100 bet.

March Madness betting brackets

The traditional way most Americans bet on March Madness is through NCAA tournament bracket sheets in office and bar pools. They fill out a sheet picking winners in all 63 NCAA tournament games and enter it in a pool at the office or a local bar. This year, sportsbooks across the US may run legal pools of their own, allowing patrons to bet on March Madness in the way they are accustomed to.

However, it’s important to remember that while March Madness bracket sheets and parlays both involve picking multiple games, they are quite different. When you enter a bracket sheet in a pool, you don’t need to get every game right, you just need to pick more winners than anyone else in the pool to win. With a parlay, you must pick every single game that’s part of the parlay correctly to win.

Get in the US college basketball action

Now you’re armed with a better understanding of how basic college basketball betting works. You can feel free to fill out NCAA tournament bracket sheets and enter pools, make basic bets on individual games in any NCAA conference tournament or March Madness itself, or even put a few bets together as a part of a parlay.

You can even start now as the regular season winds down. And if you’re in New Jersey between now and the end of the US college basketball post-season, you can do it legally through these top online and mobile sports betting apps:

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Martin Derbyshire Avatar
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Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire has more than ten years of experience reporting on the poker, online gambling, and land-based casino industries for a variety of publications including Bluff Magazine, PokerNews, and PokerListings. He has traveled extensively, attending tournaments and interviewing major players in the gambling world.

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