A Beginner’s Guide to Conference Play Betting

Players of the Duke react following a three-point basket by Bates Jones #34. Lance King/Getty Images/AFP

If you are new to betting on college hoops, or sports in general, then you will need to know the basics.

Once you are familiar with the point spread, totals (aka over/under), and money lines then you will be on your way to understanding the nuances of betting games between conference opponents.

The Spread

The point spread is just a way for the oddsmakers to level the playing field. The favorite will be giving up points and the greater the disparity in talent between the two clubs, the bigger the point spread. Playing at home also gives the home team an advantage that is mitigated by the point spread.

On Sunday, November 14th, while everyone was watching the NFL, college hoops junkies could have been watching one of a number of games, including the Fairfield vs. Boston College. Because BC is a much better team and had the added advantage of playing at home, the Eagles were installed as 10-point favorites.

As you can see, most sportsbooks had BC -10 or -10.5 for their game against Fairfield.

That means, if you bet BC, they would have to win by 11 points or more to cover the spread but if you bet Fairfield, you got a 10-point head start and even if they lost the game, you would still cover (or win your bet) if they did so by nine points or less.

If BC wins by exactly 10, it is called a push with all bets on both sides being returned. In that real-life example, BC won, 72-64, but did not cover the spread but all of those who chose Fairfield in their college basketball picks did cover because 64+10=74 which is greater than 72.

The Total

Depending on the teams playing, the totals of the games will be different. The total is simply a projected number of combined points the oddsmakers believe that the two teams will score after regulation, or overtime if necessary.

In the example above, the total on the Fairfield/BC game was 130. Bettors had the option of betting under or over 130 combined points.

As we can see, the final score was 72-64 which means the combined score was 136 (72+64), or over 130. Bettors who wagered over 130 covered while those who bet under lost their bets.

The Moneyline

Toss out the point spreads, money lines are all about which team wins the game outright. Referring again to the example above, the money line odds were BC-450/Fairfield +350 which simply means if you bet BC on the money line you would have a wager of $450 to win $100.

Meanwhile, those who bet Fairfield to upset their hosts would bet $100 to win $350. The greater the disparity in talent, the higher the money line.

Conference Betting

The electricity at a college basketball game is palpable, as the fans in the stands consist largely of the student body and alumni. They are passionate and the home team feeds off of the electricity. But the passion reaches a fever pitch when a conference rival comes to town because there are conference standings and overall standings. Conference standings are more important to winning a conference championship…and bragging rights for the victor.

The conference standings are the chief determining factor in which teams will advance to the conference championships. If there is a tie then one of the tiebreakers is the overall record but the stakes are big for conference games which is why we often see underdogs play a little bit tougher in conference matchups.

Make sure you look back at head-to-head meetings between the two squads and focus on those last two or three games at the venue where the game is being played. Historical data will give you a decent perspective but remember, teams change from year to year with some teams going through wholesale changes due to players leaving due to graduation, transferring, or the very best exiting for the NBA draft.

Therefore, home underdogs in conference matchups are often a good bet but every situation is different depending on the teams. However, if you’re looking for an edge, also look to focus on the small conferences because the college basketball odds often get stagnant due to a lack of betting activity.

The oddsmakers are fixated on games in which the best teams like Kentucky, Kansas, Gonzaga, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan, etc. are playing because those are household names and even in years when one or all of those teams is not very good, they still get plenty of betting action.

If you research conference matchups in the little conference like the Big South Conference or the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), to name a few, the lines often stagnate.

Choose wisely but remember, conference games are a different breed of cat and revenge is always a factor so look at which teams have that working in their favor. If it is the home underdog then even better!

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