Houston vs. Syracuse Odds
|Moneyline||-250 / +195|
|Time | TV||Saturday, 9:55 p.m. ET | TBS|
|Odds as of Friday evening and via DraftKings.|
The Sweet 16 is a key marker in every NCAA Tournament.
We get nearly a week to look back on how teams found their way safely out of the first weekend and project their chances of reaching the Final Four.
Syracuse’s look back is an intriguing one. The Orange were one of the last teams slotted into the Round of 64 by the selection committee after an uneven season in the ACC. Yet, like several times in previous years, Jim Boeheim and the Orange flipped a switch and won key games in March.
Houston, meanwhile, is more focused on looking forward. With Illinois bounced from the top half of the Midwest Region, the Cougars are now the favorites to represent their quarter of the tournament in the Final Four. It would be the program’s first trip to the semifinals since the days of Phi Slamma Jamma.
Can Syracuse’s March magic stop Houston’s path to next weekend?
When Houston Has the Ball
Syracuse’s zone is always going to be the focus when the Orange take the court. In a tournament setting, it can be a difficult defense to prepare for on short notice.
Houston has two advantages on most teams at this point in the season. First, it’ll be facing Syracuse with six days to prepare, as opposed to teams that face the Orange on the quick turnaround in the middle of a tournament weekend.
Second, the Cougars have faced zone already this season, playing Tulsa’s similar defense twice in conference play. Houston split with Tulsa, losing a road game in which the Cougars shot just 4-of-21 from outside the arc against the zone.
Kelvin Sampson’s offense is typically driven by the creation of his three guards. Quentin Grimes is a dead-eye shooter the Orange will need to track as he moves throughout the zone. DeJon Jarreau is a slasher who will need to knife into the zone rather than settle himself on the perimeter.
Marcus Sasser is a large variable as a possible shooter against the zone. In the two meetings with Tulsa, Sasser showed both sides of the coin. In the win, Sasser nailed 6-of-12 from outside the arc in a 26-point effort. When the Cougars lost to Tulsa, Sasser was 2-of-10 from 3-point land.
Houston can’t bet on its guards to bombard the zone from long distance without creating paint touches. If the Cougars settle for jump shots, Syracuse should have the advantage.
Even if it fails to penetrate and simply try to shoot over the zone, Houston may be able to win this game on the offensive glass. The Cougars rank second in the nation in offensive rebounding rate. Syracuse has struggled to box out and rebound out of its zone, allowing opponents to nab their own misses at the eighth-highest rate in Division I. That discrepancy could lead to a massive advantage in extra possessions and second-chance points.
When Houston Has the Ball
Houston has the athletes to swallow up Syracuse’s offense.
The Cougars have allowed the lowest effective field goal rate in the nation this season, leaving little breathing room for any opponent to find a shot. At times, that’s led to Houston’s main drawback defensively: allowing opponents to earn free throws. Houston ranked 332nd in defensive free-throw rate this season, often due to over aggressiveness.
Syracuse is a jump-shooting team that is unlikely to take advantage of Houston’s physicality. The Orange had the 11th-ranked free-throw rate in the ACC this season. If anything, Houston’s handsy defense should be in position to control the Syracuse offense and bully the Orange into tough shots.
In two prior tournament games, Syracuse made up for all kinds of limitations with the power of the 3-point basket. The Orange have made half of their 38 attempts from long range in the NCAA Tournament.
As we explored earlier this week, Syracuse is a strong shooting team, but that number can’t be sustained.
Betting Analysis & Pick
This will be a frustrating game for bettors to watch. Even the least knowledgeable basketball fan will be able to spot if Houston is being stifled by the Syracuse zone. If the Cougars are standing still offensively and settling for late clock 3s, the Orange have a real chance at the upset here.
Even in that case, Houston’s advantages on the offensive glass and on the other end of the court put the Cougars in the driver’s seat.
Houston’s defense, combined with Syracuse’s incoming shooting regression, makes the Cougars the smart bet long-term here. The spread isn’t too enticing and the moneyline doesn’t carry a ton of value, but Houston should win the game.
If anything, the most value comes in the form of halftime bets.
Even if Houston is going to win a grind-it-out game, it’s hard to see the Cougars running away early. A safe bet comes on Houston taking time to adjust to the zone.
The Orange +3 in the first half or Houston under 34.5 first-half points stand out as intriguing plays.
Pick: Syracuse 1H +3 (down to +1.5).