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Where to Watch: #1 Baylor vs. #2 Houston - Saturday, 5:14 p.m. EST on CBS (@ Lucas Oil Stadium)
The Game Odds (DraftKings Sportsbook): Baylor -5; -225 ML; O/U 134
Futures Market: Baylor +275 to win the national title
After ranking number two in the Associated Press (AP) Preseason College Basketball Rankings, Baylor started the year off at a torrid pace by winning 18 straight games. Even amidst a midseason COVID-19 outbreak, losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State are the only blemishes on the Bears' impressive resume. Head Coach Scott Drew has navigated an unprecedented season and has this group playing its best basketball when it matters most. Led by Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teauge, this backcourt triumvirate is a matchup nightmare for every other team in the nation. All three players score at least 14 points a piece, which creates a seemingly “pick your poison” type of situation for opposing defenses.
Making the case for Baylor: Baylor has the nation’s second best offense according to Kenpom while reigning supreme in three-point shooting, averaging 41% for the year. However, it's the Bears' 28th ranked (and often under-appreciated) defense that has the Baylor Bear faithful optimistic about their team's NCAA national title aspirations. This opportunistic and aggressive defensive unit has the Bears averaging more than one steal per eight opponent possessions with a turnover percentage of 24.7%, good for third in the nation. After a win versus the University of Hartford in the opening round, Baylor has now beaten Wisconsin, Villanova, and Arkansas, which rank 13th, 12th, and 19th respectively, in the country. The Bears have surely been battle-tested, but as the field thins and the competition grows more difficult, do they have the gumption it takes to win a national championship for the first time in school history?
Making the case against Baylor: On this Saturday, April 3rd, the #2 seeded University of Houston Cougars will indeed bring forth a difficult matchup for Baylor. Relying on their length and athleticism, the Cougars' sixth-ranked defense will look to bedevil Baylor’s three-point prowess, which accounts for nearly 36% of the Bear’s total points. With Houston holding opponents to a mere 29.2% clip from three, this Final Four affair should be the classic case of an unstoppable force versus an immovable object. On the surface, it would appear that the venue for the game, Lucas Oil Stadium, could also cause problems for the Baylor offense. After all, the home of the Indianapolis Colts has been an under machine so far in this NCAA Tournament, and it has given its fair share of fits to outside shooting teams. This will be Baylor’s third game at the location, and after an underperforming outing against Hartford in which it shot 33% from three, the Bears did in fact regain their form against Arkansas, shooting 53.3% beyond the arc in the Elite 8.
How Baylor matches up with Houston: The case for Houston is fairly simple here: the ACC Champions are first in the nation in defensive effective field goal percentage, 11th in three-point percentage and second in offensive rebounding percentage. If the Cougars can keep offensive possessions alive and defend the perimeter, they certainly could advance to the championship round. Houston’s strength of schedule, however, is by far the the worst in the Final Four. The Cougars' most proficient three-point shooting opponent was only ranked 58th in the nation, which certainly inflates their ranking, and they have losses to Tulsa (118), East Carolina (153), and Wichita State (67) on their resume. Their only top 30 win of the season was in fact against Texas Tech back on November 29th. As impressive as Baylor’s road to the Final Four has been, Houston’s has been just as pedestrian, as it has only had to beat the #10, #12, and #15 seeds to get here. Baylor has been much more consistent throughout the year, is playing their best basketball against the best competition and looks poised to earn its national title berth since 1948.
Best Value Bet: Take the in-game over at the 10-minute mark of the first half
After opening up -4.5 against Houston, Baylor currently sits as a five-point favorite and -225 on the moneyline. The cash split certainly favors the Bears too, and understandably so. The concern with laying the points here is Baylor’s inefficiency at the free throw line. Converting at just over 70% on the season, it remains a serious question if the Bears will be able to close the door and cover against a desperate Houston squad. With the first game in four days for these teams, and the pressure at its pinnacle in the Final Four, both clubs could let nerves get the best of them, which could spell an inefficient start. As the game progresses and both teams get more comfortable with their offenses, there will be value on the over. Houston should able to take advantage of Baylor’s limitations on the glass for easy points, while Baylor has experience and recent success at Lucas Oil Stadium despite other team’s outside shooting failures. Because of this, there is certainly value on the in-game over after an expected slow start.