Baylor (-5) vs. Houston
The No. 1 seed Baylor Bears continued their dominant run through the NCAA Tournament this week with an 81-72 win over No. 2 seed Arkansas, punching their ticket to the school’s first Final Four appearance since 1950. The Bears bent Arkansas to their will, forcing the nation’s 19th fastest-pace team (per KenPom) to play at an uncomfortably slow pace, while making things difficult on the perimeter limiting the Razorbacks to 3-for-11 from beyond the arc.
Led by Senior guard MaCio Teague (22 points), the Bears’ offense clicked, shooting 48.4% from the floor, including 8-for-15 from three-point range. Baylor has now averaged 74.5 PPG throughout their tournament run, and beaten teams by an average margin of more than 14 points. The Bears now face one of the country’s most elite defenses in the Houston Cougars.
The Cougars solidified their spot in the Final Four with a 67-61 win over Oregon State, ending the No. 12 seed’s magical run. The game looked primed for a blowout as Houston entered half-time with a 34-17 lead, but the Cougars were outscored by 11 points in second half. They ended up one free-throw shy of the cover.
In what has become a common theme, the Cougars once again dominated the glass, hauling in 47.4% of their offensive rebounds compared to the Beavers’ 25.9%. They also held one of the hottest players in the tournament, Oregon State guard Ethan Thompson, to just 11 points.
This is such a fun matchup. As mentioned, Baylor has been dominant throughout their tournament run, but they have yet to see a defense like the Cougars’. In the same breath, Houston has not faced an offense even close to Baylor’s yet.
The difference in this game for me is versatility and adaptability. Baylor has proven that they can beat teams in so many different ways. If they need to hit threes, they can do it. If they need to score around the rim, they can do that as well. Baylor, while not the offensive rebounding team that Houston is, is ranked 27th in the country in the category and should be able to offset Houston’s rebounding better than previous teams have.
The Cougars have ran through this tournament by slowing decent offensive teams down and smothering them, but this Baylor offense isn’t decent, it’s elite. And even if they do slow Baylor down, the Bears can win at a slow pace like they did against Villanova and Wisconsin. I see Baylor continuing their three-game streak of covers, and moving on to the Championship in relatively easy fashion.
@IowaZach Pick: Baylor -5.0
Gonzaga (-13.5) vs. UCLA
The UCLA story has been fun, especially when the camera pans to Hep Cronin cheering his son’s fellow Bruins to victory. However, the road should end here.
Gonzaga is a juggernaut, and there is a fair argument that UCLA has snuck into the Final Four. Were they underrated this season? Sure. But, Michigan State squandered away their opportunities at a tournament run to UCLA in the First Four. Alabama shot 11-for-25 against UCLA and lost in overtime. Michigan shot 54.5% from the line against UCLA, as well. Luck factors into the road to the Final Four. Heck, everything clicked in 2019 when Virginia won the title. It’s part of the game.
Gonzaga is too strong though, and the spread could move even more in their favor. Their sixth ranked KenPom adjusted tempo will give a slow UCLA team some issues. UCLA’s sparse defense will struggle to defend all of Gonzaga’s weapons from Jalen Suggs to Drew Timme.
Double-digit spreads in the Final Four may seem daunting, but UCLA does not seem to have the guns to outperform the Bulldogs. If they fall down early, it will be tough to climb back into this one. Gonzaga’s defense doesn’t have any shortcomings in which the Bruins could exploit, either. Johnny Juzang might struggle, like he did against Alabama, another elite defensive squad. If that happens, there is no way for UCLA to cover this number.
@cwsdjt Pick: Gonzaga -13.5 (play to -15)
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