Free Picks: Baylor Bears vs Houston Cougars

Baylor vs Houston Final Four
Baylor Bears vs Houston Cougars, NCAA, Lucas Oil Stadium

The No. 1 Baylor Bears (26-2, 14-2 Big 12) have glided through four rounds of the NCAA tournament to reach their first Final Four since 1950. In their first three games, the Bears earned double-digit victories, before beating No. 3 Arkansas by nine on Monday in a game the Razorbacks never led. Now, Baylor faces No. 2 Houston (28-3, 17-3 AAC), a team had a couple of close calls this tournament but hasn’t lost since Feb. 18.

Second chances, Baylor’s offense vs. Houston’s defense will define Final Four matchup

The Baylor Bears haven’t really needed second chances this year. No, they’ve pretty much just beaten up on everybody, resulting in the second-overall seed in March Madness — and now a trip to the Final Four.

On that stage, one the Bears haven’t seen their men’s program reach in 71 years, they might need to make use of some second chances, in the form of offensive rebounds, when they face the very evenly matched Houston Cougars. Both teams rank inside the top 10 in offensive rebound rate, adjusted offensive efficiency and a handful of other categories. The team that makes the most of those second-chance possessions just might be the one that advances to play on Monday night.

Keep an eye on the odds throughout the week, as it’s still too early to find a point spread for this matchup. Instead, we can see that Baylor is a -200 money line favorite (888sport) on the latest NCAA basketball odds, while Houston upholds a +160 line  as the underdog (888sport).

Those numbers indicate how tight oddsmakers envision this matchup being. And as great as Baylor has been — we’re talking about the No. 1 three-point shooting team in the nation right here — it’s a great sign of respect for Houston. The Cougars just keep winning, and winning, and winning …

Not without some close calls, mind you. Since their 11-game win streak began (after a Feb. 18 road loss to Wichita State), Houston has won three of its games by three or fewer points. That includes a 63-60 win over Rutgers in the tournament’s second round — in which Houston closed on a 14-2 run in the game’s final four-plus minutes.

Meanwhile, Baylor hasn’t had anything resemblant of a close call in this tournament. They did trail No. 5 Villanova by seven points at half in the Sweet 16, but promptly turned around to win by 11. And in their Elite 8 matchup with No. 3 Arkansas, the Bears earned an 81-72 victory without ever falling behind.

Aside from offensive rebounds, the biggest matchup here is Baylor’s offense vs. Houston’s defense. The Cougars are tops in the country in effective field goal percentage allowed (43.3%) and top-15 in several other key categories: three-point percentage, two-point percentage, block rate and steal rate.

If the Bears go cold from beyond the arc — and that’s a big if, because as noted they’re the best three-point team in NCAA Division I — the Cougars have the type of defense that will make other forms of offense difficult to come by.

We aren’t sure if Houston can keep up with Baylor’s scoring. It’s less about that, and more about dictating a pace of play — and a rigid defensive system — that ensures the Cougars don’t have to. Houston has proven itself capable of doing that, which is why our BetPicks prediction is Houston on the money line. Again, be mindful of updated odds throughout the week, particularly if you’d prefer to tease a point spread or wager on the point total.

 

Stats

  • Baylor is 5-5 ATS in its past 10 games
  • The OVER has cashed in seven of the Bears’ past nine games
  • Houston is 6-4 ATS in its past 10 games
  • The UNDER has cashed in five of the Cougars’ past eight games

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Jordan Horrobin is a freelance sports journalist based in Toronto, Ontario, who enjoys sports-related research and telling engaging stories. His work can also be found at Sportsnet, Forbes and elsewhere. Though he abandoned most of his team-specific fandoms in the interest of unbiased analysis, Jordan roots hard for his fantasy football/hockey teams (and he's a complete homer for all things Ohio University). You can follow Jordan on Twitter at @JordanHorrobin

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