How College Basketball Lines Work

Basics on Reading College Basketball Odds—Lines, Spread and Totals

College basketball offers sports bettors a wealth of games on which they can wager. During the season, you’ll find a long list of odds from the top books posted on Maddux Sports’ college basketball lines page. Of course, it’s essential that as a bettor you understand how to read these betting odds. In this article, you’ll learn all that you need to know regarding how to understand NCAA Basketball odds, including the point spread, over/under and moneyline.

The elements we’ll be looking at are often referred to by different names. The point spread is often called the spread or the line. The over/under bet is also known as the total. And the all important rotation number, which is used to identify each team that is playing, can be called the number or the rotation mark. By the way, sometimes people will lump all odds together by calling them lines or they may be referring to the spread when they ask, “What’s the line on the Duke game?” Many terms, over the years, have become interchangeable.

The good news is that although terminology may be laced with slang and some inconsistencies, when you look at college basketball lines posted online they all have the same elements and they all look pretty much the same. The primary difference is some books will list the teams for one game side-by-side and another will have one team on top of another. The main thing to remember is that the visiting club is always listed first.

Starting from the left, the first things you’ll see will be the date and time of the game and right after that will be the rotation number and the team names. The point of the number is to create order and ease in making a bet. The numbers are listed in sequence and they are consistent from book to book.

As an example if Duke is playing at North Carolina and the Blue Devils have a rotation number of 901, then the Tar Heels, who are the home team and listed second, will be 902. In the next games listed, the visiting team would be 903 and the home club 904 and so the sequencing continues.

Date/Time Rotation Number Team Point Spread MoneyLine Total
Feb 12th 901 Duke +2.5 +120 152.5
8:00 902 North Carolina -2.5 -140 152.5

Because every sportsbook uses the same numbers, it makes it easy for the bettor to locate the game and the odds at different sites and it provides a shorthand by which bettors can make their wagers over the phone or at a land-based book. To avoid confusion when betting, you don’t mention the name of the team but rather the rotation number.

These initial parts of the line, which are used to identify the game which is being bet, read from left to right—date and time of game, rotation numbers and team names. All elements to the right of this information relate to the college basketball odds for that specific game. This is where you will find the point spread, moneyline and over/under.

The reason the point spread exists is to make it more difficult for sports bettors to pick a winner. In college basketball odds, as in college football, some spreads can be huge. How big might they be? If a team such as Duke or North Carolina, both of which a powerhouses, plays a club such as Idaho State from the much weaker Big Sky Conference the spread could be 40 points or more. Without the spread, it would be much too easy to pick the winner. With the spread in place, bookies hope to even out the bets between the two teams.

This is how the point spread works. The team that is favored is listed with a minus or negative sign and a number, while the underdog is listed with a plus or positive sign and a number. The favorite has points taken away and the dog is given points. In our game where Duke is visiting North Carolina, the spread would be relatively tight since both clubs are national contenders. Duke, because they are visiting, might be listed at +2.5, which means North Carolina would be -2.5.

If you wager on the Blue Devils and they win outright or lose by less than three points, then you win. Bet on the Tar Heels and if they win by three or more points, you win. Often the point spread is listed with a ½ point faction or decimal, which ensures no matter what the score the game cannot end in a tie. If the spread is a whole number, then the contest could end in a tie and that would result in a push. A push means that all bets are off and all cash is returned to the bettors. If the spread was 2 in the Duke/North Carolina game and the final score was Duke (+2) 88 and North Carolina (-2) 90, it would be a tie and a push.

The other number you’ll see associated with the spread is the stake—how much you have to bet to realize a profit of $100. The most common stake you’ll see is listed as -110. This means that you must wager $110 to win $100. Note that the payout on a spread wager is not even money (1:1), as some will say. If it were, you would wager $110 to win $110. The odds are a bit less than even, standing at 0.90:1.00. That’s 10% less than even. Where does that 10% of your payout go? It’s taken by the book as part of their commission, which is also called vigorish or vig.

Next, to the right of the point spread, is the moneyline. Note: some books may list the moneyline separately under a moneyline tab. But often the line is part of the odds listing. This type of bet is quite different from the spread due to the fact that no points are given or taken away and the basketball team that wins outright is the one that pays off. The way the books even the playing field is they charge more for you to wager on the favorite while offering a smaller payout and charge less to bet on the dog while providing a bigger payout.

Using the Duke and North Carolina matchup, the moneyline would have the dog Blue Devils at +120 and the favorite Tar Heels at -140. This moneyline is directly connected to the spread of 2.5. With the moneyline, a club that’s posted on the plus side shows how much you’ll win when wagering $100 and when a team is listed in the negative that tells you how much you must bet to win $100. In our example, you would wager $100 on Duke (+120) to win $120 and $140 on North Carolina (-140) to win $100.
Below is a list of the corresponding point spreads as they relate to the moneyline, ranging from -2 to -10.

Point Spread Money Line
-1 -120/+100
-2 -130/+110
-2.5 -140/+120
-3 -155/+135
-3.5 -175/+155
-4 -200/+170
-4.5 -220/+180
-5/-5.5 -240/+190
-6 -270/+210
-6.5 -300/+220
-7 -330/+250
-7.5/-8/-8.5 -360/+280
-9/-9.5 -400/+300
-10 -450/+325

With college basketball odds the last number you will see, which is posted to the right, is the over/under. As it is with the spread, they may not be expressed as a whole number. The over/under represents the total number of points that may be scored in the game. Your wager is either on the over or the under.

In the Duke/North Carolina contest, the total would be around 152.5. If the sum of the points scored by both teams is 153 or higher, the over wins and if it is 152 or lower, then the under wins. As it is with the point spread, this number comes from handicappers working on and assessing matchups, stats, coaches and player performance.

Once odds are posted for a game, sports bettors need to decide quickly, based on research, which bets they are going to take. Early college basketball odds tend to be soft and offer more leeway than adjusted odds, which get tighter as game time gets closer. The elements discussed in this article are all common in NCAA Basketball odds listings. Know how to read each part in order to make smart and timely bets.

College Basketball Betting Information

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