The NBA Versus College Basketball: Same Game, Different Betting Factors

While betting on the NBA or college basketball may appear to be pretty much the same thing, the two disciplines actually have about as much in common as the three-point shot and the three-second violation. Same ball, same rims, same court, but very different wagering factors.

The most obvious distinction between the NBA and its NCAA counterpart is the number of teams. The NBA is made up of just 29 franchises while both bettors and bookmakers must keep track of over 200 college teams. What's more, NBA teams play an 82-game schedule with the potential for dozens more games in the playoffs. Typically, the college season is 30-35 games long with a maximum six-game post-season for the fortunate two teams which reach the championship game of the NCAA Tournament.

Playing more games against fewer teams creates a dull sense of sameness for most NBA teams. Thus, while college teams rarely lack enthusiasm or motivation, the pro game's lengthier and more physically challenging schedule has resulted in some NBA squads "mailing it in" from time to time. Unfortunately, predicting these lapses in maximum effort not always is easy.

Another major difference between the NBA and college basketball is scheduling. Usually, college teams play only twice a week, once on the weekend and once during the week. That means that fatigue rarely is a factor. But NBA teams may play as often as four or five times in a week. A team forced to play its fourth road game in five nights is at a distinct disadvantage against a team that has been resting at home for two days. Of course, the game's pointspread will reflect this inequity. For that reason, pro basketball, far more than college basketball, is a game of ebbs and flows or what some refer to as "rhythms."

Talent, or a lack of it, also plays a role in distinguishing the NBA from college basketball. Even the worst team in the NBA occasionally can beat the best team in the league. But the likes of a Samford, a Wofford or a Nicholls State could play Duke 100 times and never beat the Blue Devils. For that reason, NBA pointspreads rarely exceed 18 or 19 points but college lines can soar as high as 50.

A further distinction between the college and pro game is the value of the home court. The home court is much more of a factor in college basketball where the elite teams, backed by their frenzied fans, seldom lose. In the NBA, every team is assailable at home.

One area where bookmakers are particularly vulnerable to astute players is with NBA totals. Traditionally, NBA totals have yielded the slimmest margin of profit - usually in the 1/2 to 1-percent range - among all segments in the sports betting arena. In fact, there even have been seasons when some bookmakers have lost money on NBA totals.

From an oddsmaking point of view, it's not difficult to arrive at a total when high-scoring teams such as the Lakers, Mavericks or Kings play one another. Nor is it particularly tricky to post numbers when low scoring outfits such as New York, Cleveland, or Detroit clash. Over the past decade, while totals have ranged from as low as 165 to as high as 230, most books haven't fared too badly when like-minded teams meet.

From the perspective of the bookmaker, the task is much more difficult when opposites attract. These are called "tempo matchups" because the team that dominates the pace of the game not only beats the spread, but usually determines whether the game goes over or under the total. It's also worth noting that tempo more often is dictated by an overwhelming pointspread favorite than a slender one. For example, a high-scoring team that is a double-digit choice is far more likely to dominate the tempo against a low-scoring team than is a high-scoring team that only is a 4 or 5-point favorite.

While the differences between NBA and college basketball may seem daunting, they also present areas of opportunity for bettors. The sheer number of games on the college level gives the bettor more chances to uncover an error or miscalculation. Thus, while bookmakers such as The Greek Sportsbook are obligated to post prices on every game, bettors need only choose the ones where they believe they have an advantage.

On the NBA level, books continue to struggle with totals on "tempo matchups." Accordingly, this area remains ripe for exploitation.