What's a Bearcat? A Losing Bet in AAC Final vs. Houston

Sunday, March 11, 2018 1:02 PM UTC

Sunday, Mar. 11, 2018 1:02 PM UTC

No. 21 Houston and No. 8 Cincinnati clash today at 3:30 p.m. ET in the AAC final in Orlando. The Bearcats are favored by 4.5 points, but are the Cougars being overlooked?

Sunday College Basketball: AAC ChampionshipHouston Cougars vs. Cincinnati BearcatsFree NCAAB Pick: Houston +4.5Best Line Offered: 5Dimes

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No. 21 Houston (26-6 SU, 17-10-1 ATS) is underrated on the college basketball odds board because they are underdogs without being worse than No. 8 Cincinnati (29-4 SU, 18-14 ATS). The Cougars are 12-0 SU in non-road conference games, including two wins over Wichita State and another over the Bearcats, all three wins coming as underdogs. They tend to lay an egg in a hostile road environment, but are a match for anybody on home or neutral court.

In both games against Cincy this season -- one an 80-70 SU and ATS loss on the road in which Cincy had an anomalously strong shooting performance, and the other a 67-62 home victory -- the Cougars were efficient from behind the arc. This ability is important against a mediocre Bearcats defense in terms of proportion of three-pointers allowed. Houston averages the AAC's fourth-highest proportion of threes attempted and converted 40 percent or better of its threes against the Bearcats. The key player is guard/forward Corey Davis, who ranks 80th in three-point shooting percentage. Davis is 9-for-12 combined in two matchups with Cincy.

Conversely, Cincy's top three-point shooters by percentage, Jacob Evans and Cane Broome, have been cold in AAC tournament play, going a combined 3-for-20 from three in their past two games. With these guys in poor shooting form, Cincy will rely on its inside game. The Bearcats are relatively inefficient from two, ranking sixth in the conference in two-point percentage despite achieving a high frequency of blocks and steals to create easy buckets. Houston doesn't allow many easy baskets, its offense ranking in the top five in percentage of turnovers, steals and blocks allowed. Its interior defense is solid, ranking second in opposing two-point percentage. With the crux of Cincinnati's three-point shooting attack in poor form, it will struggle to score. In all four of Cincy's SU losses, the Bearcats converted less than 30 percent of their three-pointers.

One weakness of Houston that Cincy could exploit is free-throw shooting. The Cougars' major problem is fouling the opposing shooter. But the Bearcats rank toward the bottom in free-throw percentage. Another way Cincy could score would be to achieve put-back points. This was evident in Friday's SMU game where Cincinnati was dominating the glass and eventually figured out how to finish consistently around the rim. Houston ranks second in defensive rebounding percentage and can limit the inefficient Bearcats' opportunities around the rim.

Overall, the Bearcats are in worse form, not just in terms of three-point shooting. They have consistently disappointed backers, going 3-5 ATS in their past eight games. A major problem has been Evans, who the Bearcats rely on most for scoring. In Cincy's past six games, its inconsistent scoring leader hasn't managed double digits in three of them.

Conversely, Houston is 7-2 ATS in its last nine. Point guard Rob Gray is the team's go-to-guy and he's peaking at the right time. In Houston's last six games, Houston's leading scorer has produced 30 points in three of them. He led his team with 33 points in the Cougs' victory against Wichita State on Saturday. Whereas Cincy's best has been asleep, Houston's is rolling.

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In the worst-case scenario, we see a tight game that bettors still won't have to sweat because the Bearcats are awful at free throw-shooting, ranking eighth in the category. Houston, with its ability to limit Cincy's strength and led by a hot gamer such as Gray, has attractive dog value on our NCAAB picks.

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