Virginia vs. Houston Betting Odds
There’s nothing better than non-conference college basketball. It’s the only time you’ll get massive, out-of-conference matchups with top-25 implications until March.
That’s exactly what we have here. The Cavaliers are heading to Houston to take on the Cougars.
Things are very different for Tony Bennett since he cut down the nets in 2019. That was very clear in the Cavs’ pathetic loss to Navy.
Meanwhile, the Cougars are fresh off a Final Four appearance and Kelvin Sampson is trying to do it again. However, he has the job of replacing four starters from last year’s team, but their 2-0 record and top-15 ranking attest to their potential.
These two teams play at some of the slowest paces in the country, so expect a grinder in this game. But which side will come out on top?
Virginia Cavaliers Odds
Virginia just isn’t that good.
There’s not a ton of experience, as Bennett must replace over 60% of his minutes from last season. And there’s not a lot of length, as the Cavaliers run with four starters under 6-foot-4 and rank outside the top-200 in average height (76.8”).
Given that, Bennett’s pack-line defense hasn’t performed up to its expectations so far, especially on the perimeter. Through two games, Virginia’s opponents have shot over 41% from 3.
Of course, the Cavaliers bounced back in their 19-point win over Radford, covering the 17.5-point spread and holding Radford to a measly .76 points per possession.
I’m unsure of how the Cavaliers will play this season. But I do know how they will play.
They’ll play slow, as they’ve ranked outside the top-350 in tempo for six straight seasons. They’ll grind you down and try to win 52-50, mostly by shooting from deep and working interior, post-up buckets.
East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner will show how high the offensive ceiling is. He’s scored 18 points in both of Virginia’s first two games and has taken over 32% of the team’s shots.
Gardner must dominate against high-level ACC talent for Virginia to compete. Because there’s a ton of offensive limitations on this roster.
Houston Cougars Odds
Like Bennett’s teams, Sampson’s teams are going to play slowly with elite defense.
And like Virginia, Houston makes its money on the defensive end. The Cougars play suffocating, man-to-man defense that challenges every shot from any area of the floor. The Cougars have finished inside the top six in defensive effective field goal percentage in four straight seasons.
Their length allows them to protect the rim on the interior while effectively closing out on the perimeter. But to that point, the defense is really built from the inside out.
This is why the big-man rotation is so important for Houston. Returning pieces Reggie Chaney and Fabian White are uber-important, and 6-foot-11 UConn transfer Josh Carlton will play a big role, either as a starter or a bench piece.
Those guys won’t just be the key to Sampson’s defensive game plan, but the offensive one too.
Houston will shoot a lot, as 42% of their attempts last season came from deep. However, a key part of their offensive success is crashing the glass on those attempts. The Cougars ranked second last season in offensive rebounding rate, and Sampson needs his frontcourt rotation to pull down those missed 3-point attempts.
It seems like Marcus Sasser is going to be the backcourt initiator. He’s already taken over 30% of Houston’s shots, dropping 25 on Hofstra and 26 on Rice in the process.
Prediction and Pick
My pick: Houston -8.5 (-112 at PointsBet)
I’m just very, very low on the Cavaliers.
Again, the Cavaliers return only one starter from last season and one player from the season before. Their 36.6% minutes continuity is 239th in the country, and there’s zero offensive talent outside of Gardner and maybe Clark.
Houston also returns only one starter from last season, but they return almost 50% of their minutes from last year. And there are some very important offensive pieces in the frontcourt that are back and leading the way.
Plus, Marcus Sasser’s improvement on the offensive end improves the Cougars’ offensive capabilities infinitely.
But If the Cavaliers don’t make their 3s, they’ll be lucky to score 40. Unluckily for them, they’ll be playing a Houston defense that’s ranked top-15 in 3-point defense for three straight years.
All-in-all, the Cougar defense can stand toe-to-toe with the Virginia defense. But the Cougar offense is head-and-shoulders above the Virginia one.
I believe the offensive mismatch is worth laying nine points.