It will be an all-Texas affair to kick off the Final Four on Saturday night as the Baylor Bears face the Houston Cougars. At Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the Bears are five-point favorites, with the over/under set at 134.5 points.
The Cougars took an unconventional path to the Final Four, beating four double-digit seeds to win the Midwest Region, becoming the first team in . In fairness, Houston can’t control if the top seeds in that region all went out early. Plus, their opponents like Syracuse and Oregon State played far better than their seed indicates. There’s no denying the Cougars belong in the Final Four, especially with a 28-3 record.
Meanwhile, the Bears steamrolled their way to the Final Four despite a couple of hiccups late in the season. Baylor held serve as the no. 1 seed in the South Region, beating Hartford, Wisconsin, Villanova, and Arkansas. A nine-point win over Arkansas in the Elite Eight ended up being Baylor’s closest game of the tournament, as the Bears won each game comfortably.
Driving the bus for Baylor all season has been the trio of Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell. Butler is the leader of the bunch as a First-Team All-American, but all three guards average at least 14 points per game on the season.
Meanwhile, Butler and Mitchell give the Bears two point guards on the floor most of the time. That tandem, combined with the unselfishness of the three guards this season, has made the Bears one of the most dynamic offensive teams in the country.
However, the Cougars might pose the most formidable defensive challenge Baylor has faced all season. Houston isn’t afraid to pressure the ball and play aggressive defense, with DeJon Jarreau being the team’s best on-ball defender. The Cougars have held every team they’ve faced in the tournament to 61 points or less, finding a way to slow down Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson and Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim, who were both red-hot being running into Houston.
For the Cougars offensively, it’s all about Quentin Grimes. The former Kansas guard has carried the Houston offense for most of the season, averaging 18 points per game and shooting better than 41% from the perimeter. He’s deadly when he gets open looks from three-point range and can help to negate some of Baylor’s outside shooting, which is the Bears’ biggest strength.
Houston is also thrilled that Marcus Sasser has started to regain his shooting touch. Sasser averages 13.5 points per game but struggled early in the tournament. However, after scoring 12 points against Syracuse in the Sweet 16 and dropping 20 on Oregon State in the Elite Eight, Sasser looks to be back, giving the Cougars another potent scoring threat to help Grimes.
Big Bears vs. Little Cats
Despite Houston’s defensive prowess, it’s hard to imagine any team keeping Baylor contained for 40 minutes. Even when the Bears had a sluggish first half in the Sweet 16, they came alive in the second half. With three quality guards, Jarreau won’t be able to defend all of them at once.
Baylor’s scoring depth will ultimately be the difference in the game, even if the Cougars give the Bears a scare. Bet on Baylor to win and cover against Houston.
BETTING PICK: Baylor Bears (-5).
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