Houston, San Diego State Red Hot Entering First-Round Matchup

Jay Pryce

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 2:15 PM UTC

Tuesday, Mar. 13, 2018 2:15 PM UTC

Two of the hottest teams in the nation collide in the first round of the West Regional on Thursday as No. 6 seed Houston squares off with 11th-seeded San Diego State. This is a must-watch matchup. Here is a must-play pick.

No. 6 Houston Cougars vs. No. 11 San Diego State AztecsFree NCAAB Pick: HoustonBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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San Diego State (22-10 SU, 20-10 ATS) is arguably the hottest team in the nation, winning its last nine games, including the Mountain West championship on Saturday with an 82-75 victory over New Mexico. Talk of an NCAA Tournament invite was hardly on the radar one month ago, the Aztecs toiling to a 13-10 overall record and sitting eight back in the standings. Fortunes changed quickly.

The return of oft-injured guard Trey Kell from a sprained ankle in early February lit a fire under the bunch, and they have not lost since. The senior leader averages 10.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. The Aztecs are 16-8 ATS when Kell suits up this season, topping a -6.0 average line by 1.5 points per game.

A stingy defense is fueling the streak as well. San Diego State is yielding a 40.8 opponent shooting percentage during the nine-game run, surrendering 65.1 points per game. The perimeter defense is on point, allowing a 30.8 percent 3-pointer rate. The unit is also one of the best at slowing teams on the fast break, yielding a 47.9 percent effective field goal rate in transition for the year. This ranks 18th lowest in the nation. Efficient scores are certainly a chore against coach Brian Dutcher’s bunch lately.

Houston (26-7 SU, 18-10 ATS) is arguably as hot as the Aztecs, going 10-2 SU and ATS in its last 12 contests. It lost a heartbreaker in the AAC championship game 56-55 against Cincinnati last time out after an errant pass out of bounds on the final possession ruined a chance for the win. Nonetheless, head coach Kelvin Sampson pieced together one of the program’s best seasons in decades, in which it didn’t lose consecutive games all season. It easily earned an at-large bid to the Big Dance, its first since 2010.

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WE'RE BACK IN! #ForTheCity #GoCoogs pic.twitter.com/XRFRk8q28c

— Houston Men's Hoops 🏀 🐾 (@UHCougarMBK) March 11, 2018

The Cougars are ballin’ on both ends of the court since the start of February. They are shooting 47.2 percent from the floor, while holding opponents to a 39.9 rate. Tipping off a 6.4-point favorite on average, the team is besting the number by 7.6 points a contest in this span.

What makes Houston so tough is its versatility and sheer athleticism. The Cougars can beat you running sets or one-on-one in isolation. This is due to the backcourt tandem of senior Rob Gray (18.5 ppg) and junior Corey Davis Jr. (13.5 ppg). Both are adept at driving to the hoop and hitting from long range. The Aztecs, meanwhile, are surprisingly poor defending the rim, allowing a 65.1 opponent field-goal percentage on shots within three feet. This ranks 314th out of 351 Division I teams. Even with Kell back, State will find it tough slow Houston’s penetration and flexibility on offense.

The Aztecs have tipped off underdogs seven times this season. They yield 80.9 points per game on 49.0 percent shooting. The unit has made proper adjustments of late, which should keep the total lower, but the fact remains it has allowed 70 points or more in each contest. Houston is 67-11 SU and 44-19-1 ATS all-time under Sampson when putting up as many. Our numbers make it 74-68 for the Cougars. Lay the 4 points against the spread.

Check out SBR’s college basketball odds page for updated lines. Also, head over to the March Madness Betting Headquarters for vital handicapping information, picks, and a list of the best sports books and live betting options for the tournament season.

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