Let’s get the obvious out of the way. NCAA basketball is college basketball, NBA is professional basketball. NCAA athletes aren’t paid (despite much controversy on the subject), while NBA athletes make millions.
But you probably knew that already.
With that out of the way, we can get into the meat of the matter: the difference between the rules in the NCAA and NBA. We’ll also take a brief look at how league play and betting differs between the two leagues.
The game rules
These are pretty straightforward, so we’ll get right into them.
In the NCAA, they play 20 minute halves. They get a 15 minute halftime break.
In the NBA, they play 12 minute quarters, with a 15 minute halftime break.
That means that NBA players are on the court for 8 minutes longer than their friends in the NCAA.
Overtime for both leagues, on the other hand, is 5 minutes long.
The shot clock
In the NCAA, players have 30 seconds to take a shot. The clock resets to 20 seconds if a shot is made unsuccessfully.
In the NBA, players have 24 seconds to take a shot. The clock resets to 14 seconds if a shot is made unsuccessfully.
The consequence of this is that college games tend to have a slower pace of play – the shot clock is more forgiving, so players have more time to set up their shots.
In the NCAA, they don’t like jump balls for some unknown reason. They only have one, at the start of the game – after that, possession rotates between the two teams. The team that didn’t win the initial jump ball gets possession at the next jump ball, then the rotation begins, tracked by a possession arrow.
In the NBA, they do like jump balls. The team that wins the initial jump ball gets possession to start the third quarter, while the team that loses the initial jump ball gets possession to start the second and fourth quarter. Every other jump ball is – as you might expect – a jump ball.
In the NCAA, players are disqualified after 5 fouls (in any combination of personal or technical). When a technical foul occurs, the opposing team is given 2 free throws and possession.
Team fouls are pretty complex in the NCAA. After the 7th team foul in a half, the opposing team gets one free throw, and if they hit that free throw, they get another free throw. After the 10th team foul, they get two free throws.
In the NBA, players are disqualified after 6 fouls (in any combination of personal or technical), or 2 technical fouls. When a technical foul occurs, the opposing team is given a free throw.
Team fouls are simple in the NBA – after the fourth team foul in a quarter, the opposing team gets 2 free throws.
In the NCAA, the 3-point line is 19’9’’ from the hoop (21’7⅞” in the corners), and the paint is 12 feet wide.
In the NBA, the 3-point line is 23’9’’ from the hoop (22 feet in the corners), and the paint is 16 feet wide.
In the NCAA, when a uniform isn’t worn properly, the whistle is blown and the player must adjust their uniform.
In the NBA, things are simpler still – the player gets fined.
The NCAA schedule is far less grueling than the NBA’s. There are, however, about 350 teams in the NCAA, so there are a lot of games to watch. They play about 30 games in a season, though in the 2020-2021 season that number was limited to 27. If they win all of March Madness, they’ll play an additional 6 games, bringing their total to 33. March Madness is a single elimination tournament, much different from the NBA’s playoffs.
In the NBA, they play a lot more games. They usually play 82 games in a season – this year, it will be 72. There are, however, only 30 teams in the NBA. The playoffs can also go a lot longer, as the tournament is best-of-7. That means a team might have to play 28 games before the playoffs end. Unlikely, but possible!
If you know how to bet on NBA games, you’ve already got a great head start for NCAA games. There are obvious differences, of course – the play styles, teams, players, and rules aren’t the same. Nonetheless, you’ll see the same types of wagers for the most part – point spread, totals, and the like.
The biggest difference is that March Madness betting is insanely popular – there are people who have never bet on sports or watched a game of college basketball in their lives who bet on March Madness. That makes it an interesting betting opportunity if you’re savvy – full bracket bets are incredibly popular.
We hope this look at the differences between the NBA and NCAA have been helpful to you. Yes, they’re both basketball, but they’re markedly different in some pretty important ways. The plus side? It means there’s ample basketball for us to enjoy.