Is The NBA Different Than College Basketball?

The NBA and NCAA College Basketball are completely different situations. The NBA is the professional, upper echelon of basketball athlete’s in the world. Every player aspires to make it to the NBA. College Basketball, known as the NCAA, is the top tier level for young prospect talent. Highly recruited high school athletes will be handpicked by the top NCAA schools in the country, with that decision helping them reach their goal of making the NBA. Since College Basketball is a stepping stone to get to the NBA, you would think they are very similar. However, that is not the case. Is the NBA different than College Basketball?

Yes, the NBA is very different than College Basketball. Besides the many rule differences, the NBA consists of only 30 teams that play 82 games a year. The NCAA has roughly 350 teams that play 30 games a year. Individual players in the NBA can be sponsored where only teams can be sponsored in NCAA. NBA players have a contract and a salary, where college players do not get paid. NCAA players also are going to school at the same time as playing basketball.

How Is The NBA Different Than College Basketball?

College Basketball is extremely different from the NBA. The game of basketball between the two is similar with the objective of the game being the same. However, the ins and outs of those games differ. These differences are what divide basketball fans from supporting both.

Passionate college basketball fans may look at the NBA with distaste as they view NCAA basketball as the pure form of the game. Die-hard NBA fans might feel the same way, looking down on college basketball as a lower-caliber version of the league. This should not be the case, as yes they are different, but that is what makes them so unique and exciting. The most obvious differences come from the specific rules of either league, so let’s take a look at what they are and compare.

Rule Differences That Make The NBA Different Than College Basketball:

Game Time:

  • NBA – Four 12 minute halves
  • College Basketball (NCAA) – Two 20 minute halves


  • NBA – 24-second shot clock, with 8 seconds to cross half court
  • College Basketball (NCAA) – 30-second shot clock, with 10 seconds to cross half court


  • NBA – Jump ball to start the game for possession.
  • College Basketball (NCAA) – Possession arrow pointing to who begins the game with the ball.

Width of paint under the hoop:

  • NBA – 16 feet wide
  • College Basketball (NCAA) – 12 feet wide

3-point line:

  • NBA – 23’9’’ from the hoop
  • College Basketball (NCAA) – 19’9″ from the hoop


  • NBA – 6 personal fouls before fouling out. After the 4th team foul in a quarter, opponents get 2 free throws.
  • College Basketball (NCAA) – 5 personal fouls before fouling out. After the 7th team foul in a half, opponents get 1-1. After 10 team fouls, the opponents get two free throws.

Uniforms (Both jerseys must be tucked into the shorts and shorts can’t be below knees):

  • NBA – If the uniform is wrong, the player is fined.
  • College basketball (NCAA) – If the uniform is wrong, the play is stopped and the uniform must be fixed.

These rule differences, paired with other league rules are what makes the two unique from each other. The NBA has 30 teams and plays 82 games, the NCAA has roughly 350 teams that play around 30 games. The playoff format is also very different. With the NBA, 8 teams from each conference qualify, and the playoffs are seeded with 4 rounds of 7 game series. College Basketball is one massive tournament called March Madness. With the top 64 teams in the country qualifying and being ranked per their conferences in a single game elimination.

Is The NBA More Popular Than College Basketball?

Yes, in some parts around the United States, College Basketball has a stronger following than the NBA does. You will find this mostly in states that have very strong and rich historied NCAA teams, with the absence of an NBA team in the region.

Some examples of this are:

  • State of Kentucky – the University of Kentucky Wildcats, one of the most successful and storied college basketball teams in the country.
  • Louisville – University of Louisville Cardinals
  • Kansas – University of Kansas Jayhawks, which is similar to the University of Kentucky Wildcats in terms of its historic success and blue-blood status.
  • Iowa – Similar to the other states, but to a lesser degree, University of Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State University Cyclones, Creighton University Blue Jays, and Drake University Bulldogs. All of which have had a degree of historic success and have a high interest in the state.

These states do not have an NBA team to root for, but the citizens of these states are obsessed with their college basketball team.

Another unique example is:

  • North Carolina – University of North Carolina Tarheels and Duke University Blue Devils. Two more blue-blood status schools.
  • Indiana – Indiana Hoosiers and the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

These are prime examples of both states having NBA teams currently, but playing second fiddle to the historied NCAA programs. North Carolina has the Charlotte Hornets where Indiana has the Indiana Pacers.

Which Colleges Produce the most NBA Players?

NBA different than college basketball

The opening day of the NBA 2020/2021 season featured players from 131 Division 1 men’s college basketball teams, occupying 431 spots. For the third year in a row, Kentucky and Duke have the most active players around the league. NBA teams have room for 17 players, including two spots for two-way contracts. This means that a maximum of 510 players are in the NBA at the start of a new season. 

The Kentucky Wildcats have 32 players currently throughout the NBA. Bam Adebayo with the Miami Heat and Devin Booker with the Phoenix Suns are already all-stars for their respective teams. Meanwhile, rookies Tyrese Maxey of the Philadelphia 76ers and Immanuel Quickley of the New York Knicks began their NBA journeys this season.

Duke currently has 29 players in the NBA. They are the only other school with more than 20 active NBA players. Jayson Tatum with the Boston Celtics and Brandon Ingram of the New Orleans Pelicans are stars for their teams. Rookies Vernon Carey Jr., Tre Jones, and Cassius Stanley are the latest Blue Devils to go make the NBA. The 2020 draft was the first time since 2010 that Duke did not have a player taken in the first round of the NBA draft.

How Many College Players Make The NBA Each Year?

The number of college basketball athletes that realize their dream of making the NBA is probably different than what you think. The number of NCAA schools and the number of players on those teams, versus the number of NBA teams and roster spots does not balance out.

There are 350 schools that are full members of division 1 NCAA basketball conferences, plus seven more that are in transition from Division 2. From these 350 schools, only 68 Division 1 teams out of that number qualify for the March Madness tournament. From those 68 division 1 teams, maybe 2-3 players per team will be considered by the NBA to be drafted. Some may be signed as undrafted free agents, and a few division 2 or 3 players may emerge and get signed. However, other than the top-level division 1 players, usually from the blue-blood schools, most college player’s careers end after graduating.

To put this into perspective, this is from the NCAA 2020 Probability of Competing Beyond High School Figures and Methodology:

  • NCAA Participants – 18,816 players
  • Approximate Draft Eligible players – 4,181
  • Number of NBA Draft Picks – 60
  • Number of NCAA players drafted – 52
  • Percent of NCAA to NBA – 1.2%

On 2019-20 opening day NBA rosters, former NCAA Division 1 players filled 85% of roster spots.


The NBA and NCAA are widely different in how the respective leagues function, but both are extremely exciting. Both have passionate fan bases and high-quality basketball. The differences and unique rules particular to each league are what make them both so entertaining.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and hopefully, you learned a thing or two. If you are strictly an NBA fan, I would recommend sitting down and watching some NCAA basketball. Vise Versa for College Basketball only fans. If you are interested in other NBA content, click here. If you want to learn something regarding another sport, just click here.