The Houston Cougars take on the Baylor Bears in an All-Texas Final Four showdown at the Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.
Houston is one of the best defensive teams in the tournament and the Midwest Region champions are making their first Final Four appearance since 1984 where they lost to Georgetown in the NCAA Championship game. Meanwhile, Baylor has been one of the most impressive offensive teams in March Madness and the Southwest Region champions are in the Final Four for the first time since 1950.
The last time Houston went this far in the NCAA tournament was in 1984 during a third consecutive trip to the Final Four under the legendary “Phi Slama Jama” era. The program went into obscurity after the end of that era and by the time current head coach Kelvin Sampson took over seven seasons ago, the program was irrelevant. But Sampson has brought them back to prominence and now they are looking to produce another upset in an impressive tournament run.
Quentin Grimes leads the team with 18 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and was named as AAC Co-Player of the Year. Senior guard DeJon Jarreau has been a two-way sensation who has orchestrated the Cougars’ offense while also anchoring their defense. Jarreau is averaging 10.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game this season. Justin Gorham is also contributing 8.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
Following their 81-72 win over Arkansas last Monday, the Baylor Bears secured their first Final Four berth in 71 years. For head coach Scott Drew who has spearheaded the program for the past 18 years, it’s a culmination of a journey that had plenty of ups and downs. Baylor rose from the ashes of a scandal and nearly reached the Final Four in 2010 and 2012 but was ousted by the eventual champions. There was no stopping them this time around as the 26-2 Bears were crowned as Southwest Region champions.
Jared Butler leads Baylor with 16.5 points and 4.8 assists per game while MaCio Teague is putting up 15.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Davion Mitchell is also scoring in double digits at 14.1 points while also contributing 5.3 assists per game. The Bears lead the nation in three-point percentage at 41.8% as they won their first conference title since 1950.
Houston is 10-0 SU in their last 10 games played. The Cougars are 7-0 SU in their last seven Saturday games, and 8-0 SU in their last eight neutral site games. Baylor is 18-2 SU in their last 20 games played. The Bears are 8-1 SU in their last nine Saturday games, and 8-1 SU in their last nine games played in a neutral site. These teams have played only once before, but that was way back in 2002 when the Bears beat the Cougars 62-60.
Defense has been the key to Houston’s success as the Cougars have surrendered more than 60 points only once in their last five games played. That happened during their Midwest Regional final game against no. 12 Oregon State on Monday where they gave up 61 points.
However, the Cougars failed to cover the 8-point spread in that game but their defense managed to hold off Oregon State after the teams were tied 55-55 with 3:48 left to play in the game.
On the other hand, the Bears have been a terrific scoring team in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor has averaged 74.5 points per game so far in four March Madness games played. However, they have been defensively impressive during that span as well, holding their opponents to an average of 60.3 points per game. Baylor has a very talented group of players and they can win in a variety of ways. That should be their edge over Houston.
Prediction: Baylor Bears
The Cougars are 14-6 ATS in their last 20 games played. Houston is 9-3 ATS when playing away from home on a Saturday, 7-1 ATS in their last eight games as underdogs at a neutral site, 11-2 ATS in their last 13 overall games as underdogs, 21-8 ATS in their last 29 games against opponents with a winning percentage higher than .600, and 34-16-1 ATS in their last 51 games after an ATS loss. The Bears are 5-1 ATS in their last six NCAA tournament games, 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games at a neutral site, 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games as betting favorites in a neutral site, 26-12 ATS in their last 38 games against an opponent with a winning SU record, and 33-16-2 ATS in their last 51 games against an opponent with a winning percentage of .600 or better.
Both these teams are standouts on offense with Houston ranking 7th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency at 118.6 points per 100 possessions and Baylor third in the same statistical category at 123.0 points per game this season. However, the Cougars have also in the Top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency at 88.4 points per 100 possessions allowed. That defense is going to keep this game close, and although Baylor might end up winning as the better team, five points may be too much to give the Cougars at this stage of the season. I’m looking at a one-possession win here for either team. That said, regardless of who wins, Houston is covering a two-possession spread here.
Prediction: Houston +5
The total has gone under in five out of the last six Big 12 games played by Houston. The under is also 4-1 in their last five games as the betting underdog. The Cougars have seen the total hit under in four out of their last five games as underdogs in a neutral site. The under is also 13-3 in their last 16 games after an ATS loss, 12-3 in their last 15 Saturday games, 4-1 in their last five NCAA tournament games, 13-6-1 ATS in their last 20 neutral site games, and 23-9 in their last 32 games as underdogs. The total has gone over in 13 out of Baylor’s last 16 games played. The over is 7-1 in their last eight games after an ATS win, 12-2 in their last 14 games after an SU win, 13-3 in their last 16 games as betting favorites, 8-3 in their last 11 games as favorites at a neutral site, and 7-3 in their last 10 NCAA Tournament games.
As stated above, these two teams are among the elite offensive teams in the nation this season, only that Baylor is a little better. That edge should force the Cougars to use their top-rated defense to win this game and not let themselves be caught up in a track meet, which they won’t be able to win. These teams are two wins away from the National title and college basketball immortality. I expect both teams to go all out for the win here. These teams have met only once before, and that was almost 20 years ago when they were still part of the Southwest Conference. That game ended with a 62-60 score and although that was two decades ago, I expect the same hard-fought and back and forth contest on Saturday night. I think defense reigns in this game.
Prediction: Under 134.5
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