Point spread betting, also known as betting against the spread or “ATS” for short, is the most common way to bet on college basketball. The heavy majority of wagers on college basketball involve a point spread and while this type of betting is certainly the most common, there could be a learning curve for a first-time bettor.
Point spreads purpose in sports betting is to “equalize” a given matchup to allow for a more realistic means to make a game a virtual coin flip.
As is the case in any sport, college basketball will frequently have matchups between two schools with a noticeably large talent discrepancy.
In professional basketball, the talent discrepancy typically isn’t big enough to have a large double-digit point spread (i.e over 15 points), but in college basketball point spreads of 15 points or more are extremely common.
Sportsbooks and oddsmakers alike quickly realized that when a dominant college basketball team was facing off against a team with vastly inferior talent that a simple win-loss proposition would leave them running out of money quicker than a Toys R Us store in the suburbs.
Thus the point spread was born.
A point spread gives a reason for any given bettor to risk money on either side.
For example, if Duke were facing off against New Mexico State, most bettors wouldn’t blink twice before hammering Duke to win that game straight up.
However, when introducing a point spread, that bet is far less of a sure thing than it would be otherwise.
A sample look at what a point spread for this matchup may look like is as follows:
New Mexico St. Aggies (+18.5)
at Duke Blue Devils (-18.5)
So now if Duke needs to win their game by 19 points or more, more bettors may think that New Mexico State will keep the final outcome respectable and lose by less than 18 points, as the Aggies could lose along the lines of 80-62, but would still cover the spread.
To expand this out even further, the team that’s seen as the team most likely to win in any given matchup is considered the favorite.
The team that’s named the favorite will need to win that matchup by a number larger than the point spread itself.
The favorite in any given matchup, regardless of sport, will always be indicated by a minus symbol (-) preceding that point spread.
The team considered to be the “worst” in any given matchup, or the one with the lower chance of winning the game straight up, is simply referred to as the underdog, or “the dog.”
Underdogs are notated as such by having a plus symbol (+) in front of their point spread.
A bettor wins a given bet on an underdog if the underdog wins the game outright or loses by an amount of points within the range of that given point spread.
The “juice” on the game (also known as the vig) will be indicated in parentheses next to the point spread, and will typically start anywhere from (-105) to (-120).
The vig is simply the cut a sportsbook or bookie takes in order to place your wager.
The scale that is universally used in sports betting is based off the idea of what you’d need to risk in order to win $100, or what you would win on an underdog if you wagered $100.
In other words, when you see the juice has a minus symbol (-) in front of that number, that is the number you’d need to risk in order to win $100.
On the other hand, when you see a plus number (+) in front of the juice, this is the amount of money you would win if you wagered $100.
Here is an example to show this in action:
Virginia Tech Hokies +5.5 (+110)
Virginia Cavaliers -5.5 (-120)
Using the above example, if you wished to bet on Virginia to win by 6 points or more and you wanted to net a $100 profit, you would need to risk $120 to do so.
If you believed the Hokies would keep the score within 5 points or win the game outright, you would win $110 on a $100 wager.
Another thing to mention here is that despite the scale working off the idea of betting to win $100, this can actually be adjusted to work with any dollar amount (large or small) that you wish to bet.
If you wish to win $500 on Virginia, you would risk $600. If your bankroll was much smaller and you wished to bet $20 on Virginia Tech, you would win $21 if the Hokies were to cover the spread.
Always be sure to only gamble what you can afford to lose. Bankroll management is the ultimate key to long term success when it comes to sports wagering. Gamble with your head, not over it.