Houston vs. Cleveland State Odds, Pick, Prediction: Bet the Cougars Twice in NCAA Tournament
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images. Pictured: Quentin Grimes.
- Houston enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the best teams and faces Cleveland State in Round 1.
- The Cougars have become a powerhouse in recent years under Kelvin Sampson, and the Vikings could be in for a long day.
- Our staff breaks down this first-round matchup and delivers two ways for bettors to back Houston.
Houston vs. Cleveland State Odds
As Cleveland State and Houston prepare to battle, we should be prepared for a low-scoring battle.
Both the Vikings and the Cougars are defensive-minded teams that play at a very slow pace. Both teams also play very small, as there’s not a player in either team’s starting lineup taller than 6-foot-8.
Houston dominated the AAC this season, winning both its regular-season and conference tournament title on its way to a No. 2 seed. Meanwhile, Cleveland State stole a bid from Wright State in the Horizon League Tournament after the Raiders paced the conference in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
The Vikings are predictably pumped about being in the NCAA Tournament. However, I’m predicting a rout in this game.
Shane McNichol: The list of teams ranked in the top 20 of both offensive and defensive efficiency per KenPom is exactly four teams.
Three earned top seeds in the NCAA Tournament, with Gonzaga, Illinois, and Michigan all fitting the bill. Flying a bit under the radar, Houston joins that group with the eighth-ranked offense and 16th-ranked defense in the land.
Houston’s offense derives its efficiency from three guards able to create opportunities off the bounce.
Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes has developed into a star, leading the Cougars in scoring and sinking 41% of his 201 attempts from outside the arc.
DeJon Jarreau is a wispy guard, listed at 6-foot-5 and just 185 pounds. It’s remarkable how he’s able to slide his way past defenders and use his length to convert at the rim.
Lastly, sophomore Marcus Sasser is a classic shot-maker rather than pure shooter, hoisting attempts from all over the court off the bounce.
The Cougars are also incredibly aggressive on the offensive glass, snagging 39% of their own misses. Only North Carolina topped that mark this season. It’s quite an achievement for a Houston team that doesn’t feature anyone over 6-foot-8 in the rotation.
On the defensive end, Houston can be feisty to a fault.
The Cougars held opponents to the lowest effective field goal rate in the nation, with top-10 performances in 3-point percentage and 2-point percentage allowed.
Despite that, teams have found one reliable way to score on Houston: at the free-throw line. The Cougars ranked 333rd in free-throw rate allowed this year, often leaning toward overaggression to get stops.
Mike Randle: Cleveland State was picked to finish seventh in the Horizon League Preseason Poll, which led to season-long skepticism of its true ability level.
Even after earning the No. 1 seed in their conference tournament, the Vikings were given very generous +1000 odds to cut down the Horizon nets. Undaunted, the Vikings delivered their first Horizon League Tournament title since 2009, with an 80-69 win over Oakland.
Head coach Dennis Gates was hired away from Florida State in July of 2019, where he served as a long-time assistant under Leonard Hamilton. Gates did a remarkable job cleaning up a team chemistry mess from former coach Dennis Felton and rightfully earned his second consecutive Horizon League Coach of the Year honor after a 19-7 overall record, including 16-4 in conference play.
Cleveland State started Horizon League play with nine consecutive wins, including a sweep of Northern Kentucky and a win at Wright State. It owns the top defensive turnover rate in conference play and has held Horizon opponents to a league-low 30.2% from beyond the arc.
Senior guard Torrey Patton (14 PPG), junior Tre Gomillion (10.5 PPG), and junior college transfer D’Moi Hodge (10.4 PPG) lead an offensive attack that has its own challenges. The Vikings shoot just 30% as a team from 3, with a poor 66.4% team free-throw percentage. Cleveland State shot just 32.6% in its 20-game Horizon League schedule.
The Vikings performed David Copperfield-esque escapes in their first two Horizon League Tournament games. They survived an incredible opening round battle against IPFW, needing a deep 3 from Al Eichelberger with just seconds left to force a third overtime period. Then, against Milwaukee, they overcame a 52-41 deficit with fewer than 10 minutes left to earn a 71-65 win (and improbably cover).
The Vikings parlayed that magic into unstoppable momentum against Oakland in the championship game.
Cleveland State’s success is based on a relentless defense that ranked first in defensive turnover rate against Horizon League opponents. The Vikings also stifled their opponents from beyond the arc, holding Milwaukee to just 17% (3-of-17) from deep in their conference tournament victory.
The Vikings did not shoot particularly well from deep in the game against Oakland, managing only 20% (3-of-15) from 3-point range. However, they did have remarkable efficiency (60%) from inside the arc, while forcing 14 Oakland turnovers.
The path of success against Houston is clear; play superb defense and make this a rock fight.
Cleveland State’s offense cannot be trusted to consistently score against a superior Cougars’ defense. The Vikings will also be limited on the glass by one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. They need an already strong defense to have its best game of the season.
Matchup & Betting Analysis
Tanner McGrath: There’s just no possible way that Cleveland State can score in this game.
The Vikings score 55.8% of their total points from inside the arc while taking only 20 3-point attempts per game and hitting them at a pathetic 31.9% clip. Overall, only 26.8% of Cleveland State’s points come from beyond the arc, which ranks 279th in the country.
Meanwhile, the Cougars are one of the top interior defenses in the nation, as its defensive 2-point percentage is fifth in the country at 43%. Against a team that shoots as poorly from outside as Cleveland State, Houston will just pack it in and use its length and athleticism to overpower this Cleveland State team.
Don’t think Houston is just a defensive powerhouse and nothing else. The Cougars can score, which is why they’re eighth in the country in offensive efficiency.
All-in-all, I’m expecting Houston to blow Cleveland State out of the water in this one. Houston has shown it likes to run up the score, as it’s won five of its last six games by at least 24 points (twice beating Cincinnati by almost 40).
I’m predicting a wire-to-wire, blowout victory for Houston in this one. I’m going to play Houston 1H at anything better than -12 and then play Houston full-game at anything better than -21.
Pick: Houston 1H -12 or better | Houston -21 or better.