The best players in college basketball eventually make their way to the NBA, yet it’s the entire college basketball landscape that desires the opportunity to move up to the next level. The two leagues go hand-in-hand, college basketball acting as the main feeder system for the NBA. Still, despite all their parallels, those on the inside of the sports betting industry know the two are not entirely alike and need to be treated as individual operations.
To start, motivations are different in college basketball than in the NBA. Each year, only 68 programs reach the ultimate goal of making the NCAA Tournament; that’s 19.2 percent of the 353 programs that make up Division 1 college basketball. Compared to the NBA, which sends 53.3 percent of its teams to the postseason (16 of 30) and forces teams to play more than twice as many regular-season games, each college basketball game is profoundly more significant.
With that, you also get more variance in who’s actually playing on a nightly basis, thus making it more difficult for bettors to handicap each game. Sports fans know the term “load management,” and it’s almost exclusively linked to the NBA. If they were playing 30 or 31 regular-season games, as college basketball programs do, you can be sure they wouldn’t be managing their load nearly as often. College teams need their best players on a nightly basis because it could be the difference between making the Big Dance or missing out completely.
NBA teams are judged by a specific system: the top eight teams in each conference make the postseason. It’s cut and dry in the pros. For college teams, a committee decides a large portion of who advances to the NCAA Tournament. They’re judged on the eye test, so winning by more points against this team or that team could help in the long run. Teams need to be at full-strength as often as possible, so college basketball bettors rarely ever have to worry about star players resting for the sake of rest. Meanwhile, it’s a nightly occurrence in the NBA.
Another factor that divides NBA betting from college basketball betting is the atmosphere — where the games are actually played. Compared to college basketball arenas, NBA games can feel almost sleepy. They draw more of a family-centric clientele to games, and the fans sitting closest to the floor are more affluent. When you’re dealing with college basketball, however, you’re getting synchronized chants from student sections that are right on top of the court, pep bands on the other side, and alumni re-living their years at the university. Generally, the business people sitting courtside at NBA games do not impact games like the craziness that college gyms offer.
A good college basketball gym makes it difficult for visiting teams to concentrate, and it’s factored into the betting line. Figuring out which venues have an effect, and how much of an effect, is the trick. Knowing a team is going into a raucous environment can be the difference in winning or losing a bet, and that goes for both the spread and the total.
For example, in a recent game between NC State and Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA, the Cavaliers trailed 42–31 in the second half before holding the Wolfpack scoreless for over 10 minutes. With each defensive stop, the crowd got louder and more involved, creating a snowball effect to NC State’s detriment. On a neutral floor, or in a gym with disinterested fans, maybe the run doesn’t last quite as long. It’s these situations that make atmospheric and home-court advantages some of the most important factors in college basketball handicapping. When capping NBA games, it’s not nearly as essential.
There are plenty of similarities between college hoops and the next level, but when push comes to shove and you want to cash in, they’re not the same. College basketball games generally mean more in the long run, and that goes for the players, coaches, and people sitting in the stands hanging on every lay-up and loose ball.