The Houston Cougars are looking like a wrecking crew right now, at least o the basis of their devastating victory over Georgia State in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, they lost in the AAC tournament to Cincinnati, so they are not unbreakable. The Ohio State Buckeyes come off a big effort, and a tough one, as they defeated the Iowa State Cyclones, and they are very anxious to battle for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen, which is at stake as this game begins at 8:40 PM ET at the Bank of Oklahoma Center in Tulsa.
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Ohio State did not finish the season all that strong, losing seven of their last ten games. Meanwhile, Iowa State won the Big 12 tournament, so it looked as if the Buckeyes were going to have a hard time getting past the first round. Well, in that case they surprised some people, because they got a big game out of Kaleb Wesson, who came off a real disappointing, foul-filled effort, and he dominated things to the tune of 21 points and twelve rebounds. Wesson averages 14.6 points a game, and he is a guy who can really assume control of a game, but the fact remains that he often can't defend without fouling.
That having been said, his participation, on a high level, is going to be necessary for Ohio State to advance. And that is not going to be any cakewalk, because this Houston team is about as tough as it gets when it comes to defending the opposition. They put a lot of that on display on Friday, beating Georgia State 84-55. But that wasn't necessarily the kind of test that is indicative of what is going to happen here. Or is it?
There has been a lot of support for Houston out there in the betting public, and they are favored in the March Madness odds at BetAnySports:
Houston Cougars -6
Ohio State Buckeyes +6
Over 132.5 points -110
Under 132.5 points -110
One way or another, the Buckeyes have to be able to put Houston a little off-balance when it comes to their offensive approach. The problem with that is that it is very hard to find a place where Houston is "soft" defensively. They are second in the nation in three-point defense (allowing 27.5%) and fifth best in two-point defense (yielding 42.7%). At 34% from beyond the arc, and below 50% from two-point range, does Ohio State have the teeth to cut into that?
Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson, who had led Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana into the NCAA Tournament prior to this, knows that his team is sometimes going to have to defend twice, because just stopping the opposition isn't any good if they are just going to pick up the rebound. And he's in luck, as he has a top 20 team in offensive rebounding percentage. Yes, unless Ohio State can get very lucky with somebody who can get very hot from the outside, they are going to have some trouble.
Defense is certainly something that can separate Houston here, but also their trio of outside shooters who are 38% or better from beyond the arc - Dejon Jarreau, Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis, who had the hot hand for the Cougars on Friday, with seven triples.
Sometimes the public choice DOES wind up being the correct one. This is such as case, we think. So it's Houston minus the points.
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