Betting Value on Thursday’s Over/Under

Houston vs. Arizona Odds

Arizona vs. Houston is the final of four games scheduled to tip off on a loaded Thursday night in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats and Cougars have had very different paths to the Sweet 16, with the top-seeded Arizona surviving a late scare vs. TCU and No. 5 seed Houston rolling into the second weekend.

Arizona barely escaped its second-round contest, and needed a late 3 from Bennedict Mathurin to force overtime before the Wildcats prevailed in an 85-80 victory.

The Horned Frogs dominated the offensive glass and exposed some of Arizona’s weaknesses, but the Wildcats got career nights from Mathurin and Christian Koloko to avoid the upset.

Houston wasn’t expected by most brackets to make it to this point. UAB was a trendy first-round upset pick as a 5-12 matchup. The Cougars grabbed an early lead in that game and covered the spread relatively comfortably in the end with an 82-68 victory.

They followed up that win with a wire-to-wire victory against Illinois, as the Cougars closed on a 26-13 run to knock off the Illini, 68-53.

Even though Kelvin Sampson’s squad was in the Final Four last year, injuries to Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark left the Cougars flying under the radar. They also didn’t have many quality wins.

As the tournament has shown thus far, Houston may lack star power and elite shot-making, but the Cougars’ stellar defense and elite offensive rebounding makes them competitive with any team in the nation.


Houston has one of the most identifiable play styles in the entire country. The Cougars defend with a ton of ball pressure, double the post-up immediately on the touch and pack the paint to force teams to shoot from the perimeter.

The Cougars don’t have any notable defensive weaknesses when you look at their profile on ShotQuality.

The transition defense ranks 27th, per ShotQuality, which is a major key when playing a team like Arizona that runs at every opportunity.

Despite how aggressive the Cougars are in chasing offensive rebounds, they don’t really pay for that at the other end of the court. Whether you try to play in the half-court or transition, the Cougars don’t let teams get any easy points. The defense in the half-court is eighth in the entire country, per ShotQuality.

Houston really exploited Illinois when it was able to force turnovers in the backcourt and run in transition off of them.

That could be another avenue to success for the Cougars in this game. Arizona’s primary offensive issue is turnovers, and the Wildcats are just 166th in offensive turnover rate. The Cougars can absolutely turn over Arizona in this game, and then use that to control the pace more to its liking.

The Cougars also forced Illinois center Kofi Cockburn to guard in ball screens over and over again, and Cockburn really struggled to cope on the perimeter.

That’s one area where I don’t expect Houston to have nearly as much success. Koloko is one of the best ball-screen defending bigs in the entire country. He’s very effective at hedging and blitzing ball screens. He guards the perimeter really well because of his elite foot speed for a big.

Houston’s offense doesn’t rely on efficient shot-making to generate points, either. The Cougars are just 138th in 3-point percentage, but they win by rebounding a ton of their misses.

The most important matchup of this game is how well Arizona copes with the Cougars’ ability to hit the offensive glass. Houston is third nationally in offensive rebounding rate, and Arizona is just 193rd defensively despite its size.

Arizona runs its offense primarily through cutting action and post-ups when its not in transition. The Wildcats will get immediate doubles from the Cougars any time they go inside to Koloko or Azuolas Tubelis, and that will leave some open shots for the Wildcats on the perimeter.

Those open shots traditionally fall to Kerr Kriisa, the Wildcats’ enigmatic Estonian guard. Kriisa didn’t play in the Pac-12 final or the opening round of the NCAA Tournament due to an ankle injury.

He returned against TCU and was largely ineffective at both ends of the floor. Kriisa made just 1-of-10 from beyond the arc and didn’t look fully healthy.

His health progression and shooting ability is incredibly important in this game because his ineffectiveness is sure to be exposed by Houston defensively. Also, the Wildcats’ offense needs his passing and shooting range to execute effectively, especially in the half-court.

Arizona does have the option to extend ball pressure to try to disrupt Houston here. Memphis had a ton of success pressing Houston into mistakes and like Memphis, Arizona has a ton of length and perimeter athleticism that could cause Houston trouble across the board.

As impressive as Houston’s energy and effort is, Arizona is the much bigger team when it comes to size.

With the exception of Kriisa, all of Arizona’s rotation is over 6-foot-5, and it has the option of playing two 7-footers simultaneously in Oumar Ballo and Koloko. Tubelis isn’t the most physical inside, but he also has a developed interior game and stands at 6-foot-11.


Houston vs. Arizona Betting Pick

Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd has to make a decision on how to manage his team’s defensive rebounding issues in this game. TCU nearly won on Sunday because of its 20 offensive rebounds. Arizona will lose this if it lets a better Houston team get that many second-chance looks.

I’m expecting Arizona to go bigger to try to rebound better, and that will hurt the Wildcats’ ability to push the pace in transition.

Whether it’s more minutes for Ballo or Tubelis alongside Koloko, Arizona should have two bigs on the floor to compete for defensive rebounds.

Houston’s defense is also elite in transition and doesn’t let teams run on it, which all points toward fewer possessions than expected in a normal game.

Houston’s ball pressure can take the Arizona offense out of its rhythm in the half-court, too, and the Cougars won’t get as many easy points off of ball screens because of Koloko’s excellent ability to guard in space.

The Cougars will get enough offensive rebounds to control tempo. That threat and the Cougars’ defense in transition will do enough to keep the pace down in this game.

Pick: Under 145 or better

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