NBA and NCAA games are very similar, but there are a few key differences that may confuse fans, and take a little getting used to from a player transitioning into the pros.

College and professional basketball games are similar in structure. They are crowded with dedicated fans, intense competition and are exciting to watch. Although the game of basketball is pretty much the same for college athletes and the pros, there are a few rules to look out for the next time you watch a NCAA or NBA basketball game.


  • NBA: four 12 min quarters
  • NCAA: two 20 min halves (both leagues have a 5 min overtime)


  • NBA: 24-second shot clock, with 8 seconds to cross half court
  • NCAA: 30-second shot clock, with 10 seconds to cross half court

3-Point Line

  • NBA: 23’9’’ from hoop
  • NCAA: 19’9’’ from hoop

Width of paint under hoop

  • NBA: 16 feet wide
  • NCAA: 12 feet wide


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


  • NBA: Jump ball for possession
  • NCAA: Possession arrow directing whose ball it is


Both jersey must be tucked into shorts and shorts can’t be below knees.

  • NBA: If the uniform isn't correct the player is fined.
  • NCAA: If uniform isn't correct, the whistle is blown and the player must fix it.

Other Differences

Besides rules, there are some other minor differences. The NBA consists of only 30 teams who play 82 games a year, where the NCAA has about 200 teams who play about 30 games a year. Individual players in the NBA can be sponsored where only teams can be sponsored in NCAA.

Although it might not seem like it, these little disparities make a big difference in the game. Restricting time on offense forces players to shoot earlier or from further away. Shorter shot clocks and more athletic players make NBA games much quicker and explain why games are usually higher scoring.

The biggest difference is in the NCAA you're going to school. There are certain eligibility requirements for student-athletes. However, in the NBA, players only have to play basketball and are paid to do so.