A casual basketball fan might assume that the game is pretty much the same across various levels. The competition increases, but the same objective remains. Play defense and score the basketball through the goal. When considering the differences between NCAA and NBA basketball, the reality could not be further from the truth.

Sure, baskets count two points inside the 3-point arc and three beyond that line. Foul shots earn a single point. The games are divided into periods, either four quarters or a pair of halves. The rules governing play are generally the same as well. However, that’s where the similarities end. Here are three key differences between the NCAA and the NBA.


A Grueling Schedule

Even the biggest schools in the NCAA play around 40 games during a full season. The two opposing schools in the NCAA finals, Villanova Wildcats and Michigan Wolverines, played 40 and 41 game seasons respectfully. In the NBA, there is an arduous 82 game schedule.

Players will have to endure more than twice as many games as they ever have in a single season. Beyond that, the NBA schedule is spotted with back-to-back games during the season.

This is something most young players have never experienced. This is why many rookie statistics begin to fade during the second half of the NBA schedule. The NCAA season spans a number of months, but the full NBA schedule is a grueling 82-game gauntlet.


Everyone is a Superstar

Not every NBA player earns the label of superstar. However, each player that makes a professional roster has a special skill set. Many of the best collegiate players are talented basketball players as well, but in the NBA they are all gifted with enormous talent.

The simplest way to appreciate the dramatic increase in talent is to consider the numbers. There are as many as 351 NCAA Division I basketball programs across the country, spread across 32 conferences.

In the NBA, there are 30 teams making up a single league. The NBA also draws from a global talent pool, including smaller colleges who are not part of the DI list. Roster sizes are similar in a total number of players as well and only five players take the court at one time.

However, it’s easy to realize that the percentage of college players who are talented enough to make it to the next level is minimal. In college basketball, each player is extremely good. However, in the NBA they are all superstar-level, unbelievably talented athletes.


Life Distractions

Beyond dealing with an increased intensity in the schedule, players must also deal with an intense increase in distractions. College players are popular, of course, but NBA players gravitate to a new level of popularity. The more visible players on any given roster become community role models.

The national level in the NCAA can be daunting, but the NBA is played on a world stage. Money is a huge part of this equation. Suddenly a young man will leave his college campus and ink a contract worth potentially millions of dollars per year.

NBA players are immediately exposed to a newfound sense of popularity, not to mention a ballooning bank account. Each of these life changes can present new and challenging distractions.

The fundamental objective of each game is to put the ball in the hoop. However, there are dramatic differences between the NCAA and the NBA. There is a grueling schedule where players face the best basketball players in the world on a nightly basis.

These two factors are magnified by a newfound level of fame. With this fame comes a whole new spectrum of life distractions. So, the ball is the same size, the rim of the same diameter and the court measurements are identical. However, a deeper appreciation shows that basketball at the college and pro levels are dramatically different.