College Basketball Betting Guide

The Illinois sports betting industry is already quite popular, especially since lawmakers included a provision to allow collegiate basketball betting. But while you can place wagers on college basketball games in Illinois, you are still banned from placing any wagers on games that include native Illinois teams.

Still, there’s a lot of potential profit to grab if you know how to place a smart wager and how to line shop successfully. If you don’t, you’ve come to the right place.

This guide will break down everything you need to know about college basketball betting in Illinois, including how to read odds, how to know whether a wager is a good opportunity, and more. Let’s get started.

When did sports betting become legal in Illinois?

Illinois was one of the first states to adopt legal sports betting after the Supreme Court struck down the PASPA in 2018. Sports betting legalization was included in a 2019 capital funding plan that was quickly signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker.

In short, this legislation currently allows for sports betting at casinos, racetracks, and several lottery vendors or select sports facilities. The Illinois Lottery regulates the sports betting industry and both retail and online books are allowed to operate.

Note that, like many other states with legal sports betting, Illinois does not allow wagers on college basketball games that include any of its in-state Division I teams. But you can place sports wagers on in-state college basketball games that include two out-of-state teams.

However, even though bets on in-state college basketball teams are currently prohibited, Representative Michael Zalewski has recently filed an amendment with the state legislature. Should this amendment be passed, it may lift the ban on wagers for in-state collegiate school teams.

NCAA basketball vs NBA: Key betting differences

While college basketball bets and NBA sportsbooks are often offered with similar lines and wager types, there are several key differences you should be aware of.

For starters, there are many more Division I college basketball teams (351 in total). As a result, sportsbooks don’t have as much of a solid feel for those teams, especially when it comes to their incoming players and how those newcomers may affect odds for upcoming matches. Linemakers simply can’t spend enough time analyzing the teams, so their projections are more likely to be less accurate.

Therefore, many sportsbooks provide more narrow odds for NBA games and betting lines compared to the lines they offer for college games. Furthermore, NBA games get a lot more media coverage and hype.

Another big difference can be attributed to the skill or talent gap between college basketball teams and NBA basketball teams. In a nutshell, college players are less experienced, so games are more likely to be mismatches between clearly better teams and underdog teams.

Players in college basketball games make more mistakes, such as traveling or fumbling the ball, which could affect the outcome of the game even when the odds are in their team’s favor. All of this results in more dramatic point spreads for NCAA basketball games compared to NBA games.

This may be good news for you, the sports bettor. Not only are there fewer bettors to swing things against your side of the wager, but oddsmakers usually produce “softer” betting lines that change frequently or are more fluid.

Smart sports bettors that take advantage of research resources may be able to make significant profits betting on college basketball games in Illinois.

College basketball betting lines explained

Learning to read college basketball betting lines is fairly simple once you understand what all the terms mean.

A “line” is simply the gambling odds determined by a sportsbook, which uses professional statisticians called linemakers that take official league data and create balanced odds so that wagerers on both sides of a bet can potentially make a good profit. This allows the book to make a profit no matter the outcome, as well.

Odds” are the projections sportsbooks use to denote the likelihood of one or more outcomes. With sports betting, odds with positive values or a “+” sign are used to denote the odds for an underdog team. This shows that you’ll make more money by wagering on the underdog team. The reverse is true for favorite teams, which get odds with “-“ signs.

Other terms and line columns you might encounter include:

  • Minimum bet: the minimum amount of money you have to wager to enter a bet
  • Moneyline: a number showing how much money you’d receive were to you wager $100. For example, a moneyline value of +200 means you would win $200 if you wagered $100. For a moneyline value of -300, you’d need to wager $300 to win $100
  • Total: the total points the sportsbook expects to be scored between both teams during a college basketball game
  • Rotation number: a number assigned to each team for a specific game. This helps you to find betting lines across sportsbooks since all sportsbooks use the same rotation numbers

There are a few big wager types you’ll find when wagering on college basketball games in Illinois.

Moneyline bets

These simple wagers have you place a bet on which team will win, plain and simple. Odds are denoted at either above 100 or less than -100 for the underdog and favorite teams, respectively.

Here’s an example:

  • You find moneyline odds for a match between Team A and Team B with odds of +100 and -150
  • If you place $100 on Team A and they win, you’ll win another $100 for a total of $200 in your account
  • If you place a $100 wager on Team B and they win, you’ll only receive $50 since they had higher odds of winning anyway. If you want to win $100, you would need to wager $150

Point spread bets

This is another popular wager type for college basketball games. A spread that involves wagering on whether a team will win or lose by a particular spread of points. For you to make a profit on a favorite team, they must win by more than the point spread. For you to make a profit on the underdog team, the underdog team merely has to win outright or lose by fewer points than the spread. Here’s an example:

  • Team A has odds of +5.5 (-115)
  • Team B has odds of -5.5 (-125)
  • Placing a wager on Team A means they need to either win the game by any point value or lose by less than five points to make money
  • Placing a wager on Team B means they need to win by more than 6 points for you to make money

Spread odds (and totals odds – more on that below) are often denoted with .5 decimal endings to prevent ties.

Totals bets

There are also totals bets, which involve wagering on whether both teams in a college basketball match will score more or less than a projected number of combined points. These are also called “over/under” bets.

Over/under odds might look something like this:

  • Team A O (Over) 143.5 (-100)
  • Team B U (Under) 143.5 (+100)

In this scenario, you can bet that both teams combined will score over 144 points. Wager $100 and you’ll get $100.

You can alternatively wager that both teams combined will score 143 points or less. You can also wager $100 and get $100 if you are correct.

Shopping for the best NCAAB lines

Since there are lots of different sportsbooks available in both retail locations and on mobile platforms, it’s smart to practice something called “line shopping”. In a nutshell, this involves checking out different sportsbooks in the days or hours before a new basketball game to see which betting lines offer the best potential profit for you.

Say that you want to place a wager on the Illinois Bradley Braves. You believe that team is going to win the upcoming match, so you find a moneyline wager at your favorite sportsbook with odds set to +200. The Braves are the underdogs, so you’ll get more money if they win, and you believe in their performance since they just brought on a new player with a lot of potential talent.

Then you visit a second sportsbook and find odds set to +220. It’s not a huge difference, but it does mean you’d win another $20 were you to place a $100 wager using the second sportsbook instead of the first sportsbook.

When it comes to betting on college basketball regularly, every dollar counts. You won’t win every wager no matter how good your prediction skills are, so making as much of a profit as possible on every bet can help you to recoup your losses and stay in the black over the long run.

It’s a great idea to use multiple sportsbooks to find the best betting lines for any particular wager or match. You can easily compare betting lines across sportsbooks by having multiple open on your phone or desktop computer.

NCAAB futures betting and props

Alongside the above-mentioned bet types, many college basketball bettors like to place futures bets and prop or proposition bets.

Futures bets are wagers on the winner of an upcoming match or tournament, particularly championships and March Madness. The trick to these bets is that you have more potentially profitable odds, sometimes into the +3000 range or higher, the earlier you place the wager. Odds become lower as the tournament in question gets closer since you theoretically have more information with which to make an accurate wager.

Many people like to participate in futures wagers since you can bet a few bucks and potentially get a big payout if you put your bet down early enough. The downside is that you don’t get paid until the tournament or game in question occurs, however.

Prop or proposition bets are specialized wager types. They involve betting on whether a particular event or action will occur during an upcoming game. These bets are often considered fun by sports bettors since they deal with very specific things, like:

  • Will Player A score 5 three-point shots in the upcoming game?
  • Will Player B get benched for bad behavior?
  • Will Team A bring in Player C for March Madness? Etc.

Naturally, many of these wagers rely on you having enough information about college basketball to make accurate predictions. But they’re often enjoyed by Illinois college basketball fans since they don’t rely on you picking the overall winning team.

Illinois NCAAB teams

Illinois’ various colleges field several excellent college men’s and women’s basketball teams. However, remember that you aren’t currently able to place wagers on any college basketball games that include these teams, at least for the time being.

  • Bradley University – Bradley Braves
  • Chicago State University – Chicago State cougars
  • DePaul University – DePaul Blue Demons
  • Eastern Illinois University – Eastern Illinois Panthers
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Illinois Fighting Illini
  • Illinois State University – Illinois State Redbirds
  • Loyola University Chicago – Loyola Ramblers
  • Northern Illinois University – Northern Illinois Huskies
  • Northwestern University – Northwestern Wildcats
  • Southern Illinois University Carbondale – Southern Illinois Salukis
  • Southern Illinois University Edwardsville – SIUE Cougars
  • University of Illinois at Chicago – UIC Flames
  • Western Illinois University – Western Illinois Leathernecks

Betting on March Madness

March Madness is perhaps the most popular event in all of college basketball. In a nutshell, March Madness is an NCAA Division I-only single-elimination tournament where 68 teams compete for glory. The teams compete in seven progressive rounds for a national championship title, and teams are eliminated in a bracket-style system until the Final Four teams remain. The Final Four compete for ultimate victory.

As a single-elimination tournament, teams are assigned games against one another in progressive brackets. Each round of games eliminates one team from the matchups, meaning only one team moves forward into each new bracket from previous matches.

You can often place futures, prop, and other wagers on March Madness games from the beginning of the tournament. However, most betting action will revolve around the winners of games leading into the Round of 32, during which 32 teams compete in 16 games against their partners.

Other big benchmarks in the March Madness tournament include the so-called “Sweet Sixteen“, which is the bracket comprised of 16 teams and 8 games. NCAA March Madness bets and popularity gradually increase up to the Final Four pair of games, which are effectively the semifinals to the whole tournament.

Lots of top sportsbooks include bets to let you get in on the action with a single wager. However, keep in mind that Illinois’s ban on in-state team collegiate betting still applies. You won’t be able to wager on an Illinois team winning the championship nor place a wager on any game that includes an Illinois team.

Biggest college basketball rivalries in Illinois

Perhaps because Illinois fields so many popular college basketball teams, several top rivalries draw lots of media attention and fan engagement every year. Here are five of the biggest college basketball rivalries to pay attention to:

  • Illinois Fighting Illini vs Indiana Hoosiers: This rivalry is mostly because Illinois and Indiana share a state border and both teams recruit from the same general roster of potential players
  • Illinois Fighting Illini vs Iowa Hawkeyes: Similarly, both schools compete for similar talent, and several off-the-court events have led to the rivalry lasting for several decades at this point
  • Illinois Fighting Illini vs Missouri Tigers: This rivalry continues the border trend. Several notable games have occurred between these teams over the years, such as a triple-overtime game in 1993 that resulted in Illinois losing to the Tigers
  • Illinois Fighting Illini vs Northwestern: The Illinois Fighting Illini sure have a thing for rivalries! This in-state school rivalry has been around for years in part because both schools have competed for the title of best college men’s basketball team in Illinois several times in the past
  • DePaul vs Chicago State Cougars: This in-state rivalry is due to the former holding a 15-0 record against the latter. The Cougars are undoubtedly ready for things to change


Can you place bets during the game?

Using mobile sportsbook apps, you’re able to place live or in-play wagers on college basketball games in Illinois. These allow you to enjoy certain prop bets that may develop as the action unfolds.

Can you bet on women’s college basketball?

Yes. But since women’s college basketball is overall less popular than men’s college basketball, your betting markets and available lines will likely be fewer.

How do you read college basketball odds?

All NCAA basketball odds will be displayed in lines of data, including a rotation number, moneyline odds, team names, game times, and more. You can use the guide above to determine what all of those terms mean.

What is the moneyline in college basketball?

The moneyline is a representation of the potential profits you would earn from a wager based on a $100 value point. Negative odds indicate how much money you need to put down to win $100 while positive odds tell you how much money you would win if you were to wager $100.