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The Keys to College Basketball Betting

Championship Week is one of the most exciting weeks in sports. Here’s what you need to know to make it count.

March Madness used to be all about bracket pools. Make your predictions for each game, throw a few dollars into a communal pot, and pray you’re right. Flame out early, and there’s little reason to care.

Sports betting allows you an emotional investment in any basketball game, whether it’s during the regular season, Championship Week, or the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament when your picks aren’t looking so hot. Of course, many found ways to wager on games here in the United States while sports betting was against the law, but the widespread legalization has led to a boom.

“10 years ago, it was primarily brackets for most people,” Nick Kostos, host of “You Better You Bet” at Audacy, told Boardroom. “The discourse hadn’t built to the fever pitch where everyone is talking about betting on basically every game. I’ve been betting since 2004, and have always had friends that did as well, so I always had a group of friends/co-workers that bet, but now it’s everyone.”

The numbers would back that up. Bettors rushed to their FanDuel Sportsbook apps this week to wager on conference tournaments, where, on the men’s side, Duke (-155 to win the ACC), Villanova (+180 to win the Big East), Purdue (+200 to win the Big Ten,) and Kansas (+260 to win the Big 12) headlining the bets that took the bulk of the handle.

Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook

Those are futures markets, but there are obviously more ways to bet on college basketball. There are spreads, totals, and moneylines like any sport, yet the number of ways to wager is somewhat capped until we get to the big games. Unlike NBA basketball, there isn’t a wide variety of player props or Same Game Parlays.

“There are way too many teams and way too much uncertainty about who is going to play in many of these games,” says Kostos. “It’s not like pro sports where there’s a manageable number of teams. As time goes on, maybe the college hoops props market becomes more sophisticated, but for now, we’ll probably only see it for the biggest games.”

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While there are just a few different ways to approach betting on a game, Kostos stresses you need to be an open-minded bettor.

“I think it’s critical to not put yourself in a box or live by absolutes,” he said. “Each game — not each sport, each game — presents its own challenge and puzzle to be figured out. Sometimes, that game will demand a first-half bet because of the spot, maybe a team is tired coming off an overtime performance and is on the road in a hostile environment, but that team is ultimately more talented and will claw back in the second half. Maybe a total is a few points too high and an under comes into play. It all depends on the puzzle you’re trying to figure out at that time.”

Tickets will undoubtedly continue to increase as we get into the first week of the NCAA Tournament as many more puzzles present themselves.

As of now, the biggest liability over at FanDuel to win the NCAA Tournament is Duke, which has garnered 11% of all bets and 14% of the total handle. Gonzaga is next with 12% of the tickets and 7% of the handle, followed by Kentucky, Purdue, and Auburn.

Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook

Which teams are the best ones to target come tournament time? Well, maybe they’re the ones who aren’t so volatile. While those sides may not be as fun, they may make you money.

“You want to avoid unbalanced teams making deep runs. It’s historically very unlikely for them to get to the Final Four,” Kostos said. “This is especially true when the stats skew towards all offense and no defense, and these are rankings easily found by a number of content providers online.”

Kostos added:

“Three Big Ten teams fit this mold: Purdue, Iowa and Ohio State. Does this mean those teams can’t win a national title or cover every spread in the tournament? No, they definitely could. It’s just that history tells us those teams are unlikely to make it very deep, which means they’re more susceptible to an upset, which means there will likely be good spots to fade them in the tournament.”

This means the 10% of tickets on Purdue at +1600 may be minced meat, judging by history, but it leaves the door open for the likes of Gonzaga (+380) and Arizona (+600) to cut down the nets.

Whatever you may decide to do this March, should you be putting money on the line in one of the states to legalize sports betting, you’ll be part of a giant movement.

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