Defense Rules Between Cincinnati and Houston in AAC Showdown

Rainman M.

Thursday, February 15, 2018 2:03 PM UTC

Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 2:03 PM UTC

Houston (19-5) hosts No. 5 Cincinnati (23-2) tonight, with the visiting Bearcats favored by 3.5 points and the game total at 132. Is that total a bit too high for your NCAAB picks?

Thursday College Basketball: No. 5 Cincinnati vs. HoustonFree NCAAB Pick: 'Under' 132Best Line Offered: Bookmaker

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If capping were as simple as betting on the same results, we would all be millionaires. When these teams met on Jan. 31, significantly different circumstance produced an 80-70 cover for Cincinnati that flew "over" the closing total of 133. In anticipation that tonight's matchup might still be low scoring, college basketball oddsmakers have come out with a slightly lower total.

On Jan. 31, these teams played at Cincinnati:

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This is important because, although defenses are generally said to travel well, Houston's does not play well on the road. Houston's over-under record in conference road games is 4-2. In three of those "overs," they allowed 65 points to a normally anemic UCF offense and 80+ to Cincy and Tulane. They also allowed 81 at Wichita State. Conversely, in Houston's last four home games, the Cougars have not allowed 60 points or more. For instance, in Sunday's rematch at home vs Tulane, Houston allowed about half as many free-throw attempts, defended the perimeter more closely and allowed a lower shooting percentage both from two and from three. Houston's over-under record in conference home games is a solid 1-5.

Houston's defense ranks 22nd in KenPom's efficiency and second in the conference. Its interior defense is especially strong, ranking seventh in opposing two-point shooting percentage and allowing the 313th-lowest point distribution from two, which is important because the Bearcats don't like to attempt many threes. Big man Fabian White ranks 67th in block percentage, and teammate Devin Davis ranks 367th.

Cincy has hit five "overs" in conference play. Two of those happened when Cincy shredded paper-thin East Carolina and South Florida defenses, one in the aforementioned Houston matchup and two against SMU. In the two SMU matchups, Cincy forced a combined 32 turnovers. Turnover rate is an underrated factor in total bets. A team can have the worst or slowest-tempo offense in the world, but if it forces turnovers it is scoring quickly and easily and upping the overall game tempo. But Houston is the AAC's most ball-secure team. So while Cincy's defense, which allows the 329th-shortest opposing length of possession on average, is making Houston struggle to select a fortuitous shot, Houston will not turn the ball over but use up significant clock before attempting a shot.

The Bearcats excel at forcing their opponent to struggle. They rank second in KenPom's efficiency and in the top six in opposing two-point and three-point shooting percentage. Three Bearcats rank in the top 300 in block percentage. Besides in that one game against Houston, the highest total they allowed in 12 conference games was 60. Cincy's defense travels well and its over-under is 2-4 in conference road games.

The first matchup was anomalous from the start, with many quick points coming off turnovers, Cincy's poor shot-selection allowing Houston's offense to get comfortable in transition and Cincy's poor defending allowing Houston to build an early lead, establish a quick tempo and force Cincy to have to come back. Expect more typically sound shot selection from Cincy's normally ball-secure, 53rd-ranked offense by KenPom's efficiency and better defending from its top-ranked defense so that it establishes a slower tempo in what should be more of a grinder instead of a roller-coaster affair. The key trend tonight is that the over-under is 1-6 in the last seven meetings between these two teams. Let's extend this trend in our NCAAB picks.

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