College Basketball Betting Odds

Live NCAAB odds at Iowa online sportsbooks

Ah, college basketball. Although the collegiate game doesn’t feature the same level of ability as the NBA, it’s an undeniably compelling sport to watch. Nowadays, Iowans can bet on it, too.

Part of college basketball’s cachet is the way each season ends. The single-elimination tournament known as March Madness crowns one team as the NCAA national champion each year. With 68 teams in the tourney, the winner isn’t always a member of a Power Five conference (like in college football). Predicting how the tournament will go is such a quintessential American pastime that even non-gamblers love to bet on March Madness.

Iowans have more betting options than many Americans, though. Legal online sports betting means Iowa college basketball fans don’t have to confine themselves to filling out a bracket anymore. Below, you’ll find all the ways you can bet on college basketball online in Iowa, including live odds from IA online sportsbooks.

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Live college basketball odds at Iowa online sportsbooks

Check the feed below for the latest real-time college basketball betting odds at Iowa online sportsbooks. See the first tab for the current point spreads, moneylines and totals odds for upcoming NCAAB games. Note: This is just a snapshot of top games; see the full odds board for NCAA basketball on our live odds feed.

Check the second tab for current futures odds at Iowa online sportsbooks for teams to win their conference, make the Final Four or win the NCAA Championship. Click on any odds to go directly to the online sportsbook, claim your free bets or bonus and open a new betting account.

Most popular college basketball bets

Basketball games tend to yield many excellent opportunities for sports betting. The number of points in a game and the multitude of statistics means there’s always a chance to wager. Here are some of the more common betting types:

  • Point Spreads: A bet on the eventual margin of victory. The sportsbook will estimate the margin, and you can bet whether you believe the favorite will exceed the estimate or the underdog will overcome the estimate.
  • Moneylines: A wager on the eventual winner. The margin of victory is irrelevant in this bet. However, payouts are unbalanced to account for the favorite’s advantage.
  • Totals: A bet on the total points that the two teams will score. The sportsbook establishes its projected total, and players bet whether the actual number will be higher or lower. This wager is commonly known as an over/under bet.
  • Parlays: A wager that combines multiple games, or “legs,” into one bet. In order for a parlay to win, every single selection must prove to be accurate. Thus, parlays are an excellent example of a high-risk, high-reward situation.
  • Teasers/Pleasers: A form of parlay where the sportsbook adjusts each estimate by some number of points. In a teaser, the adjustment favors the player and comes with a reduced payout. In a pleaser, the adjustment favors the sportsbook but increases the profit potential.
  • Round Robins: A parlay of parlays. Your picks are broken down into multiple groupings, so every pick doesn’t need to be accurate for a round robin to pay out something.

NCAA basketball futures and prop bets

There are two kinds of college basketball bets that deserve a special mention.

NCAAB futures

Futures bets might seem like a confusing name. After all, all bets have to do with the future, so it might be difficult to see how these are any different. However, futures bets have to do with end-of-season results. For college basketball, we’re talking about the eventual winners of conference tournaments and March Madness itself.

Iowa Hawkeyes Men's Basketball
Charlie Neibergall / AP

Take, for instance, these example listings for the Big Ten tournament:

  • Iowa: +250
  • Wisconsin: +350
  • Illinois: +350
  • Michigan State: +350
  • Michigan: +1,100
  • Indiana: +1,100
  • Rutgers: +1,200
  • Ohio State:+1,600
  • Purdue: +3,000
  • Maryland: +8,000
  • Minnesota: +15,000
  • Penn State: +25,000
  • Nebraska: +30,000
  • Northwestern: +30,000

From there, you could make your selection of which team you think will win.

There are, however, a couple of things to notice about the list. The first is that it is comprehensive and includes every single school in the conference. Futures bets are often recognizable by their long lists of options, and players can bet on any team they like — even if it’s a team with little chance to win, like Nebraska or Northwestern.

The other thing to see is that each option is a positive moneyline. In other words, not one option is actually favored to occur — even the most likely team to win, Iowa, is a 2.5 to 1 underdog to some other school winning.

Futures listings with no favorite are extremely common. The collective chance that one of the other options will prevail is too great for most favorites to overcome, at least in terms of their chances.

It’s important to note that futures odds will change as the year unrolls. It pays to record the listings when they are published before the season. That way, you can keep track and take advantage of situations where the lines are beginning to move.

NCAAB props

Proposition bets, or prop bets, are a popular type of wager, with many offered as live bets at online sportsbooks.

Let’s talk about what a proposition is, though. A proposition is a type of wager that involves events largely unrelated to the progress of the game. Although they may use statistics generated within the game, prop bets may not depend on the team winning, losing or scoring a certain number of points.

Instead, prop bets have to do with issues like which player will be the first to score, which player will have the most points, or which team will commit the most fouls.

Propositions can also come down to a simple yes-or-no response. The question could be some version of “will the team(s) achieve (X) statistic?” Note that Iowa law forbids in game prop bets on individual college players. Here is a typical prop bet listing you might see:

Double result prop bets

Here’s an example of a bet about which combination of outcomes will occur in the first and second halves.

Northern Iowa (NI) vs. Richmond (R)

  • NI/NI: +500
  • R/R: -200
  • R/NI: +850
  • NI/R: +525
  • Tie/R: +2,000
  • Tie/NI: +3,000

This prop bet focuses on the “winner” of each half of the play. If we read between the lines, we can see that this sportsbook expects Richmond to lead at both endpoints. However, a spurt by Northern Iowa could change the way this prop resolves.

Live betting on college basketball games

Live betting takes the concepts of pregame betting into games already in progress. When you live bet on college basketball, you can wager on questions like whether a team will score a certain amount in a given timeframe.

As you may find, live bets can involve extremely small events over the course of a game. Since these opportunities can happen over and over, it is not uncommon for live betting to create more than 100 betting options for each game.

College basketball in Iowa

Now that we’ve talked about all the types of bets that you can make on college basketball games in Iowa, let’s discuss how games are going in Iowa now.

Iowa is home to four universities that compete in the NCAA’s Division I, the highest level of play. They are:

  • Iowa
  • Iowa State
  • Northern Iowa
  • Drake

Unsurprisingly, the most consistently successful team of the four is the University of Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ mens basketball team has visited the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (March Madness) 26 times over the years. They have been seeded as high as No. 2 (1987) and have reached the Final Four three times (1955, 1956, 1980).

Running a close second in terms of program prestige are the Iowa State Cyclones. The Ames-area squad has been to “the Big Dance” 20 times, including twice as a No. 2 seed (2000, 2001). It has been to the Final Four a single time (1944). Unfortunately, Iowa State has been the recipient of some rather ignominious first-round exits in recent years, including its demise at the hands of 15th-seeded Hampton in 2000.

Northern Iowa does not have the cachet of the two larger state schools, but has distinguished itself as a home for excellent basketball in the past decade. The Panthers have made the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament seven times since 2004. The program’s most notable wins came in 2010 when NIU defeated top-seeded Kansas, and 2016, when Paul Jesperson hit a half-court shot to beat sixth-seeded Texas at the last second.

Drake is the least-acclaimed of the four major basketball programs in Iowa. It has visited the NCAA Tournament four times, but only once since 1971. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs reached the Final Four and was the third-best team in the nation in 1969.

The current season

Obviously, the cancellation of the 2020 version of March Madness has Iowa sports bettors eager for the 2021 tournament. The fact that two of the teams in the state appear to have strong squads doesn’t hurt, with both Iowa and Drake experiencing success in the early going. The team from Iowa City appears poised to ride senior center Luka Garza deep into the tournament. And Drake’s strength of schedule is likely to hurt its chances of a high seed; however, things are currently going the Bulldogs’ way.

In terms of the bigger picture, the Virginia Cavaliers remain the defending national champions. UVA defeated Texas Tech in 2019 to claim its first national title and decisively kill the demons that came with its loss as a No. 1 seed the previous year.

Both UVA and Texas Tech are ranked teams, but the two-year layoff has allowed some other schools to present a more credible claim for the throne in 2021. The favorite to win the championship is Washington-based Gonzaga, which continues to cement its position as one of the top private-school basketball teams in the nation.

Another member of that group is the second-ranked team in the US. The Baylor Bears have their best team in years and have an opportunity to avenge their 2019 tournament loss to Gonzaga on a much grander stage.

The 2021 edition of March Madness figures to be its most unusual due to the realities of playing during a pandemic. NCAA officials have announced that they will be conducting the tournament in a small geographic area — all games will occur somewhere in the vicinity of Indianapolis.

Though Indianapolis is not walking distance from the two likely contenders from Iowa, it will be a good idea to avoid the issues that stem from travel to far-away gyms. Once the Hawkeyes and Bulldogs are in the Hoosier State, they should be good to go.

Betting on NCAA basketball rivalries

Like any sport, NCAA basketball has its share of rivalries. Although rivalries tend to happen because of geography, they have a habit of developing a life of their own. Here are some of the top rivalries that you’ll find when betting on NCAA basketball in Iowa:

  • North Carolina and Duke: The most storied rivalry in college basketball comes from two North Carolina schools eight miles apart. The two schools usually share a home-and-home series, so keep an eye on that.
  • Kentucky and Louisville: This rivalry involves two schools in the same state that both have long histories of success. Kentucky is one of the greatest programs in history, with eight national titles. Louisville has won it all three times, although the most recent championship (in 2013) has since been vacated.
  • Indiana and Purdue: Here’s another bit of bad blood generated over a turf battle for bragging rights in the schools’ home state. Although Indiana has had the greater overall success (five national titles), Purdue holds a commanding 122-89 lead in the series between the two schools.
  • Cincinnati and Xavier: It’s bad enough to have to share the same state with your hated foe. It’s worse to have to share the same city. In Cincinnati; however, that’s what the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University do. Games between these two schools are so heated that players have come to blows on multiple occasions.
  • Iowa and Iowa State: We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series. The series, which pits the two biggest schools in the Hawkeye State against each other, keeps track of performances across a wide selection of activities, including basketball.

NCAA basketball players and teams to watch

The early season is always a difficult time to make predictions about how the season will play out. Between injuries, the strength of schedule and the simple variation in performance that comes from game to game, you can never be completely sure how a team will perform come tournament time.

To be fair, for the 2020-21 season, the pandemic has added an extra degree of difficulty to such prognosticating. With fewer games being played, it’s even harder to know which teams are the contenders. But we’re going to try.

Teams to watch

  • Gonzaga: The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs have beaten two ranked teams — No. 6 Kansas and No. 11 West Virginia — and are the team to beat until someone else stands up.
  • Baylor: The team from Texas is anchored by guard Jared Butler and looks to be a serious challenger for the national championship.
  • Iowa: Don’t look now, but the Hawkeyes might have the best basketball team in the nation. For sure, they have one of the best players in center Luka Garza, who leads all Division I teams in scoring average.
  • Houston: The Cougars are probably more of a dark horse pick to go deep in this season’s tournament. Though not a favorite to rack up a lot of points, their grinding defense allows fewer than 56 points a game, and the change of pace might be just the thing to wear down some of the flashier teams.

Players to watch

  • Luka Garza, Iowa: Though it may seem like we’re pandering to our Iowa-based audience with this selection, we can’t deny the Hawkeyes’ center his due. Garza brings a unique combination of size (6’11”) and range (legitimate three-point threat) to each game and is a nightmare for the opposition.
  • Jared Butler, Baylor: Butler withdrew his attempt to enter the NBA draft in order to return to Waco for his junior season. The 6’3” guard is the points leader for the Bears and contributes more than two steals per game on the defensive side of the ball.
  • Drew Timme, Gonzaga: A player standing 6’10” and weighing 235 pounds is usually a nice thing to have on a basketball team. With Timme, the Gonzaga player also has an extremely accurate shooter and tenacious defender, and he’s only a sophomore to boot.

Teams to watch for recruiting

Since college players are always coming and going, teams have to keep bringing in new talent. Highly touted recruits often turn into highly touted players, so looking at how each team’s recruiting is proceeding can be helpful for a glimpse into the future.

Here are the teams that look the strongest for recruiting in the 2020-21 season:

  • Michigan: It’s not just that the Wolverines have more commits already (six) than almost any other big-name team; it’s the quality, too. Michigan has two five-star, three four-star and one three-star recruit signed on, including top prospect Caleb Houstan.
  • Florida State: The Seminoles also have two five-star prospects lined up, including small forward phenom Matthew Cleveland. In addition, Florida State has a four-star and three-star commit, and with such a big recruiting pool in populous Florida, the team is likely not finished.
  • Duke: There is no finer example of quality over quantity than the recruiting class at Duke. The Blue Devils only have two hard commits, but power forward Paolo Banchero and combo guard J. Griffin are top-10 prospects overall and figure to form the backbone of great Duke teams for years to come.

How March Madness works

For most people, the name “NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament” doesn’t instantly ring a bell. But say the phrase “March Madness,” and everyone knows what you mean. The two phrases describe the same event — one of the biggest in sports.

The tournament itself is a single-elimination competition that crowns one Division I college basketball team as the national champion each year. Some version of March Madness has determined the college champ since 1939. The current incarnation pits the top 68 teams against one another.

Since the 2020 version of March Madness was canceled due to COVID-19, there is a great deal of anticipation for the 2021 event. In addition, several teams that are not basketball powerhouses, like Baylor, Iowa and West Virginia, have fielded some of the best teams in the nation and look to contend for the national championship.

Here are the relevant dates (all in 2021):

  • Selection Sunday: March 14
  • First Four: March 16-17
  • First Round: March 18-19
  • Second Round: March 20-21
  • Sweet 16: March 25-26
  • Elite Eight: March 27-28
  • Final Four: April 3
  • National Championship: April 5

This season’s tournament figures to be one of the more unusual in March Madness history due to safety protocols. Rather than spread the games across the country, the NCAA is planning to have all rounds take place in the same area. Since Indianapolis is the chosen site for the 2021 Final Four, anyway, the Indiana city will, in all likelihood, be the site for the rest of the games.

Betting on NCAAB brackets explained

Of course, for most people, their exposure to betting on the NCAA basketball season starts and ends in March. According to the American Gaming Association, more than 47 million people filled out a whopping 149 million brackets for the 2019 tournament.

Since many bracket contests are free, they can be a fun way to involve yourself in the betting action on March Madness. Several media outlets and sportsbooks run their bracket challenges, complete with cash prizes for those who fill out their brackets (mostly) correctly. Examples include:

However, Iowans don’t have to let a bracket be their final move on the season. Instead, you can bet on most of the games that will occur in March, including the Final Four and the national championship game.

Most sportsbooks will also offer futures odds for every team in the tournament. So, if you like a certain team to win the championship or be a part of the Final Four, you can make that wager.

If you’re feeling quite confident about a particular team, you can even try to ride that team to glory during each game. Bet on the first-round game, and if your team wins, pocket your original stake and bet the winnings. Repeat this process until your team busts or wins it all.

The truth about the seeds

One last thing to discuss is how to consider the seedings that you see for March Madness. Each team’s seed is determined by the Selection Committee, which sets the brackets on Selection Sunday, shortly after the last conference tournaments conclude.

Buzzer beaters and major upsets are the hallmarks of March Madness for most sports fans. Unless our team is the top seed, we’re usually pulling for the lower-ranked teams to prevail. Hopefully, they can do so with a last-second heave that goes in.

However, you need to realize that the seeds are fairly accurate predictors of the games. Statistically and historically, the only position in the upper half of seeding to lose the majority of its first-round games is the No. 8 seed since there’s usually not much separation between an eight seed and a nine seed.

As much as we root for UMBC to beat UVA, Florida Gulf Coast to reach the Sweet Sixteen or the Richmond Spiders to prevail over Princeton, the truth is that the higher seeds are rated that way for a good reason most of the time. Even though their unbeaten streak was broken in 2018, there is simply no good reason to bet against a No. 1 seed in the first round, for instance. Or a No. 2 seed. Or a No. 3 seed. Even a No. 4 seed will win its first game most of the time.

All of this is to say that you shouldn’t get carried away with the upset hype when you’re making your brackets or, especially, betting on the tournament. Look at each matchup with as much focus as you do the regular-season games, and those upsets won’t be such a mystery.

4 college basketball betting tips

  1. Compare the Lines and Offers: Iowa is home to multiple online sportsbooks, so you should shop around to find the best sports betting option as often as you can.
  2. Become an Expert on One or Two Teams: It will be far more profitable for your bottom line if you don’t try to drink from the firehose and bet every single game on the slate. Instead, take the time to study a team or two. Bet on their games as they move through their respective schedules, and keep track of any developments that occur, like injuries.
  3. Study Smart and Local: Everyone knows that you’ll have to do your homework to determine good bets to make. You need to realize that specificity and details play a big part in determining how a team and its players will perform. You can only get that kind of in-depth analysis from local writers and experts on each team, so make sure that you study the smaller papers that cover your chosen squads. Leave the national media for broad strokes.
  4. Remember the Bigger Picture for Each Game: Sports are built on streaks, and college basketball is no exception. You need to pay attention to both a team’s recent past and near future to gauge its mindset. For instance, letdowns after big wins are common, so your team’s win over a ranked opponent might place it in danger for its next game. Look at the external factors, like tragedies, accidents or disruptions, that might fuel a performance one way or another.

Why you should bet on college basketball over other sports

You may be wondering why college basketball is worth the effort. After all, fluky wins are much more likely to occur, so it seems as though wagers would be subject to greater volatility. Ranked teams, even those in the top tiers, commonly lose to unranked teams. However, you should be betting on college basketball because, quite simply, oddsmakers only have so many hours in the day.

There are roughly 350 NCAA Division I basketball teams. In a normal year, each team plays between 25 and 35 games. So, each NCAA basketball season features roughly 8,750 to 12,250 games, and that’s just at its highest level.

Even though the season is several months long, the oddsmakers simply don’t have the time to do adequate research on every game before setting the college basketball betting lines. Instead, they will focus their energies on the big schools and big games, because that’s where most of the bets will go.

Hopefully, you can see what we’re saying. Games involving mid-major schools or below may not have the most accurate odds set for them, and you can find opportunities to capitalize on these inaccuracies much more easily than for bigger games.

Colleges are also hotbeds for budding journalists looking to cut their teeth or make their bones, so you can usually find decent to good reporting on each team, even if the school is a small one.

In short, you should be betting on college basketball because there is profit to be made. Stick to the smaller schools and make them your area of expertise, and you may find an advantage.

Where do odds on NCAA basketball games come from?

A quick check of any Iowa sportsbook will reveal a host of odds for each NCAA basketball game. You may be wondering how these odds are generated, and how much lead time you have before the game.

Oddsmakers tend to be extremely accurate. They have sophisticated computer programs and loads of experience to formulate their opinions about each game.

Most of the time, they begin with their prediction of which team will win the game and work from there. The first type of bet to receive a number is usually going to be the moneyline. Then, bookmakers will go about setting the spread, the total, the pregame props and anything else they feel confident predicting.

For the most part, you’ll have only a day or so of lead time for each set of odds. With each team playing roughly 30 games in a season, information and expectations about teams change quite often. So, for the most part, you’ll need to have your system for analyzing a game ready to go on the day of the game.

NCAA basketball FAQ

Can I bet on NCAA games in Iowa?

Yes, NCAA games are part of Iowa sportsbooks’ offerings.

Can I bet on Iowa teams, like the University of Iowa and Iowa State?

Yes, Iowa state law specifically prohibits wagering on college athletes, not programs, so you can bet on the Hawkeyes, the Cyclones, the Panthers of Northern Iowa, the Bulldogs of Drake or any other team that calls Iowa home.

Are any types of bets not allowed on college games?

The only types of bets prohibited in Iowa are on athletes younger than 18. Prop bets on individual college players are also not allowed. For the most part, college basketball games will not have a problem meeting those requirements.

Is there going to be March Madness in 2021?

Probably. March Madness games are scheduled to begin on March 16, with the First Four. The NCAA is likely to restrict the games to the Indianapolis area in order to deal with concerns about COVID-19. However, given that some games are still being canceled as of this writing, you cannot be 100% sure that the tournament will happen.

Which team is the best this year?

Until the final buzzer sounds and the nets are cut down, we won’t have a definitive answer. As of right now, Gonzaga, Baylor, Iowa and Michigan State are all going strong.