Northern Kentucky vs Houston Odds & Predictions: Expect Lopsided Game

Northern Kentucky vs Houston Odds & Predictions: Expect Lopsided Game article feature image

Getty Images. Design by Matt Roembke/Action Network. Pictured from left: J’Wan Roberts of Houston and Marques Warrick of Northern Kentucky.

Northern Kentucky vs Houston Odds

Thursday, March 16
9:20 p.m. ET
Northern Kentucky Odds
-110o / -110u
Houston Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via bet365. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

From a pace perspective, two of the four slowest teams in the field will meet on Thursday night when No. 1 seed Houston takes on No. 16 seed Northern Kentucky. Those two teams rank 343rd and 358th in respective Adjusted Tempo, per KenPom.

So, does the slower pace favor the underdog in a game that projects to have a limited number of possessions? That's certainly a logical take, but this also looks like a potential nightmare for the Norse.

Let's take a look at each team and then dissect this from a betting perspective.

Northern Kentucky Norse

The undersized Norse play at a very methodical pace and rely on their outside shooting to carry the load offensively. Everybody in the rotation 1-4 has connected on at least 33% of their 3-point attempts on the season.

Defensively, Northern Kentucky runs zone at a higher frequency than any other team in the field.

The Norse have run their matchup zone on 70.9% of possessions, which ranks fifth in the nation. Among tournament teams, Missouri comes in second at just 17.8% (39th nationally).

Houston Cougars

Houston brings a hard-nosed, physical squad to the dance that thrives on the offensive glass and across the board defensively. The Cougars, who also play at a methodical pace, aren't an elite outside shooting team, but that doesn't matter when you can gobble up every offensive rebound.

Defensively, they swarm and over help, taking away anything in the paint. In order to beat them, you need elite ball movement and excellent outside shooters who can hit tough shots against a well-schooled unit that can recover as well as any team in the country.

Houston is an experienced and well-coached team with an identity on both ends of the floor. The Cougars are a legitimate national title contender.

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Northern Kentucky vs Houston Betting Pick

Since 2005, teams from the Horizon League seeded between 13 and 16 in the tournament have gone just 2-8 ATS as double-digit underdogs. That includes Cleveland State back in 2021 against this same Houston team at a similar spread of 20.5.

That Vikings club also ran a good bit of zone and came into the tournament as one of the nation's worst defensive rebounding teams.

To wit, Houston finished with a near 50% offensive rebounding rate en route to an 87-56 blowout victory (and cover).

Meanwhile, Kelvin Sampson has gone 7-0 as a double-digit favorite in postseason play during his tenure at Houston, covering by an average of just under 13 points per game. That includes a 2-0 mark in the NCAA tournament with the aforementioned 31-point victory and another by 29 as a 12.5-point favorite.

The likely slow pace makes it tough to lay this many points, but the matchup is too good to pass up.

If Houston isn't hitting shots against the zone (it sees it often in the AAC and grades out well in that regard, per Synergy), it should gobble up almost every offensive rebound.

That's the most lopsided mismatch in this game. Houston ranks fourth nationally in offensive rebounding rate, which spells doom for the Northern Kentucky defense, which ranks 333rd in that same category.

Additionally, NKU's zone has also forced turnovers at a top-15 rate nationally. However, Houston simply doesn't turn it over (27th). This is just flat out a bad matchup for the NKU defensive scheme.

On the other side of the ball, Northern Kentucky can shoot it from beyond the arc at 35.2%, but it will face a Houston defense that perennially grades out as one of the best 3-point defenses in the league. This season, the Cougars rank second in D-I at 27.8%.

Also, the Northern Kentucky offense has fared much better against zone defenses, grading out in the 64th percentile in Points Per Possession, per Synergy.

It has not enjoyed that same success against man defense (17%), which is what it should exclusively see on Thursday from a Houston bunch that should come out angry on that end after getting lit up by Memphis on Sunday.

The Cougars' aggressive defense does foul at a fairly high rate, but Northern Kentucky has a free-throw attempt rate that ranks outside the top 300.

We still don't know if Marcus Sasser will suit up with his groin injury, but he was reportedly close to playing on Sunday in the AAC final. Houston smartly rested him, not wanting to risk any further damage with a No. 1 seed already wrapped up.

I think he has a good chance of giving it a go, but I still like Houston even if he can't go. The offensive rebounding and pressure defense will be too much for the overmatched Norse.

For what it's worth, I think splitting the bet between full game and first half is worthwhile here with such a large spread in a game that will be played at a slow pace.

Pick: Houston 1H & Game Spread

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