NCAA Basketball and the Point Spread

A Concise Explanation of the Point Spread in College Basketball

When you bet on college basketball, you’re going to be dealing with the point spread. And by “dealing” we mean trying to determine how close the spread is to reality. As in college football, point spreads in NCAA basketball can be enormous due to mismatches. This is especially true in nonconference and certain March Madness games.

In this article, we’re going to consider the basics of the point spread and how it works. In our section on strategy and tips, you’ll find information on how to actually determine if a spread is accurate and how to play point spreads.

Why the Point Spread Exists

Sports handicappers use the point spread to even out the odds in a game. Points are given to the underdog and taken away from the favorite and in that way bookmakers try to get a 50-50 split on the bets that are placed. This is the reason why spreads pay close to even odds, because the spread has, in theory, made the two teams equal.

How the Point Spread Looks and Works

All point spreads look the same. The visiting team is always listed first and the home team second.  Here’s an example.

Radford          +25.5

Duke               -25.5

In the above spread, the Ranford Highlanders are the underdog and receive an extra 25.5 points. If you wager on the Highlanders and they win outright or lose by less than 26 points, you win your bet.  On the other hand, the Duke Blue Devils, who are the favorite, must win by more than 25 points to payoff. Anything less than a 26-point win will result in bettors losing their cash.

The Reason for Extreme Ranges

You’ll notice that point spread will vary a lot in college basketball. Games may be listed anywhere from being “even” to +/-40 points (give or take). The reason has to do with a lack of parity in nonconference play and also, to a lesser degree, disparity amongst clubs within conferences. The more extreme the point spread, the more difficult it is to pick the winner of a contest.

Playing the Spread

In playing the spread in NCAA Basketball, you’re going to have to do your homework. An extreme spread is neither good nor bad and the same is true for a close one. Whether a spread is good or bad is determined by the actual matchup. The best spreads keep games close, within one to three points. When that happens, the handicappers have done their job well and made the job of the sports bettor very difficult. Try to find spreads that favor you and not the sportsbooks.