Houston Cougars vs. Kentucky Wildcats Pick
Houston Cougars (33-3 SU, 22-12-2 ATS) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (29-6 SU, 19-16 ATS)
When: Friday, March 29, 2019 – 9:59 p.m. ET
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri
By: Matt Lowry, College Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: HOU +3 / UK -3 (MyBookie Sportsbook)
Total: O/U 134.5
Last Time Out: Houston beat Ohio State 74-59; Kentucky beat Wofford 62-56
Scouting the Cougars:
Houston’s defense is a huge reason why they have made it this far but playing Ohio State compared to playing Kentucky is a whole different story. The Cougars will be looking for their 6th Elite 8 appearance and their first since 1984.
Scouting the Wildcats:
Kentucky struggled in the game against Wofford, but still managed to claw their way to a win and book a trip to the Sweet 16. Defense was a huge part of this win as they held the all-time leader in three-point field goals made to 0 of 12 from three-point range. Kentucky also had trouble putting the ball in the bucket without their leading scorer, PJ Washington, so his status will be a huge part of how the Wildcats will approach this game.
Notable Betting Trends:
Both teams are 2-0 against the spread in this tournament, but over the last 10 games, Houston is 6-4 ATS, whereas Kentucky is 4-6 ATS. Both teams rely a ton on their defense as they are both allowing under 65 points per game this season. History shows that when Houston allows between 55 to 70 points, they are 21-2 straight up and 15-7-1 against the spread. When Kentucky allows the same, they are 15-0 straight up and 10-5 against the spread.
Houston will Cover if:
They can make the Wildcats turn the ball over. The Cougars defense was able to force 14 turnovers on the Buckeyes and a similar type effort will be needed if they want to beat the Wildcats. Forcing turnovers is something they have been doing consistently all year long, so the question will be if this changes because they are playing an elite team? An even larger factor, the Cougars must defend the three-point line and force Kentucky to take contested jump shots. There is a reason why the Cougars are the best in division one when it comes to opponent field goal percentage at the three-point line.
Kentucky will Cover if:
Other players step up to fill the role of PJ Washington. PJ Washington remains sidelined and is listed as questionable for this Sweet 16 game. Without Washington, Kentucky had just two double-digit scorers in the game against Wofford, which is a huge concern especially against a defensive-minded team like Houston. One of their better shooters, Tyler Herro, had just 9 points in the Wofford game and will need to improve significantly against the Cougars. Herro did hit some clutch shots against Wofford but going 2 of 11 from the field and 1 of 6 from the three-point line is not going to cut it versus Houston. Even their second leading scorer against Wofford, Aston Hagans, had a below average shooting performance, going 4 of 11 from the field. Now is the time where Kentucky must find a consistent scorer and if they don’t they will be in a lot of trouble. Especially when they shoot 40.4% from the field and 23.1% from the three-point line like they did against Wofford.
Another thing the Wildcats must do, is win the rebounding battle. When compared to Houston in the rebounding category, the Cougars rank 4th, while the Wildcats rank 33rd. Luckily for Kentucky, they are very good at limiting their opponents rebounding, ranking 6th in this category. Considering Kentucky is not the greatest shooting team, rebounding will allow them to leak out and have numbers creating fast break scoring opportunities. Also, they will be able to create second chance opportunities which should lead to easy baskets opposed to having to knock down a contested jumper.
Matt’s Pick for Houston vs. Kentucky:
Even without PJ Washington, MyBookie has the Wildcats as a 3-point favorite. However, Kentucky does not seem to have a player who can take over games, and given the defense that Houston plays, I believe the Cougars will be able to shutdown the Cats. For this game, I am backing the Cougars to not only cover but win outright and advance to the Elite 8.
Matt’s College Basketball Pick: Houston Cougars +3