NCAA Saturday Elite 8 Tournament Preview (March 26)

Houston vs. Villanova Odds

Houston could be a No. 5 seed according to the selection committee, but the Cougars are the best team left on the field, according to KenPom and BartTorvik.

The Cougars have a shot at a second straight Final Four on Saturday when they face Villanova in San Antonio.

Houston made the Elite Eight by knocking out both Illinois and Arizona — two top seeds — in dominant fashion. Defensive ball pressure, offensive rebounding prowess and athleticism put an end to two powerful attacks and gave Houston back-to-back wins over a consensus top-15 and top-five team.

Villanova also won and covered the spread in all three of its NCAA Tournament games, beating No. 15 seed Delaware before knocking out back-to-back Big Ten teams at Ohio State and Michigan. The Wildcats’ victories were rarely in doubt as Villanova produced just enough offense to withstand comeback attempts by the Buckeyes and Wolverines.

The Wildcats haven’t faced a top-20 KenPom opponent since November, when they lost to Baylor, 57-36.

Villanova have faced a tough non-conference schedule, won the Big East tournament, and are a very experienced team. But he hasn’t seen a ball pressure defense like the Cougars in a long time, and that’s where this game will likely be decided.


Houston held Arizona to just 0.96 points per possession in their Sweet 16 game Thursday night, the Wildcats’ third-lowest mark of the season.

The Cougars used their elite offensive rebound to control the pace and slow the game to a standstill. Once preventing Arizona from effectively managing the transition and forcing them to play in the half court, the Wildcats’ turnover issues and inability to get to the edge easily ended one of the most elite offenses in the game. country.

Unlike Arizona, Villanova will be more than happy to make this a half-court game. Both teams live offensively in the half court, and Villanova’s offense against the Houston defense is the key battle of the game. I think the Cougars have multiple game advantages that can upset the typically elite Wildcats-led movement offense.

Villanova’s attack forces teams to change everything and then looks to take advantage of shifts on the perimeter.

The Wildcats execute a ton of ball-screen action — 10th in pick-and-roll frequency — but the Cougars rank 15th in the nation in pick-and-roll defense, per ShotQuality. One of the main reasons for this is their ability to change and not be exposed, as Michigan and Ohio State have done in the last two games against Villanova.

Houston also has an elite post-up defense that doubles up every time and forces the ball around the perimeter. Villanova likes to post guards and reverse the offense, but the Cougars are athletic enough to throw doubles when needed and always spin around the perimeter to challenge jumpers. Houston is the No. 1 post-up defense, per ShotQuality.

The Wildcats love to shoot 3s and do it very effectively, but one of the staples of Kelvin Sampson’s teams is elite 3-point defense. The Cougars are guarding the perimeter at the 10th-best rate in the entire country.

If there’s one area where Villanova can be successful offensively, it’s on the free throw line, as Houston fouls a lot because of its aggression. Villanova is the best free throw shooting team of all time.

But otherwise, Houston’s choking ball pressure can cause serious problems for Collin Gillespie and the rest of the Wildcats offense.


Villanova’s offense is generally one of the best-managed units in the entire country, but the Wildcats have struggled with teams that extend ball pressure this season.

The Wildcats defense busted Tennessee outside the conference, but the offense only managed 0.60 dpi against Baylor, 0.97 dpi at St. John’s and 1.03 dpi against the Red Storm in the Big East Tournament. All of these teams are elite at forcing turnovers and like to extend the press on occasion, like in Houston.

If a team can apply enough pressure not to let Villanova execute their precise movement attack, it can make things very difficult for that group.

Due to their small size, the Wildcats also struggle to grab defensive rebounds and only rank 196th in that category. Houston’s elite offensive rebounding ability will produce second-chance points in a game that won’t have many possessions.

The Wildcats have looked great in this tournament so far, but OSU and Michigan were matchups that favored Villanova’s offense stylistically. Neither was going to flip Villanova, and neither had the ability to go 1-5, which is necessary to protect them effectively.

Houston is a much better perimeter defense than the two, and even ShotQuality reports can pour cold water on the idea that Villanova is rolling right now.

Although the Wildcats won those two games by 10 and eight points, respectively, SQ only won them by four and two points. Michigan missed a lot of layups and Ohio State had close misses on great looks in the final minutes.

These matchups were almost tailor-made for Villanova, but it’s going to be a lot tougher offensively on Saturday given the Cougars’ inability to get a clean appearance from the perimeter and switching ability.


Houston vs. Villanova betting picks

If it’s a close game late in the game, there is one major area where Villanova have the advantage. The Wildcats shoot free throws better than any team in NCAA history, and the Cougars rank only 327th in free throw percentage. It’s a scary thought for the Cougars in a two-man game, which means it should be tight in the final four minutes.

That being said, Houston point guard Jamal Shead might be two inches shorter than Villanova’s Gillespie, but I expect Shead’s athleticism and defensive prowess to really cause Gillespie problems. He is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country.

Similar to how Baylor and SJU rocked Gillespie by pressing the ball throughout the game, Houston’s team defense can frustrate the Wildcats.

Houston’s offense isn’t always pretty and there aren’t a ton of shooters, but Villanova’s mediocre defensive rebounding numbers mean Houston will win by shooting volume.

If the first or second chance doesn’t convert, Houston will get more shots in this game. And even if they are underperforming, the Cougars will book their place in the Final Four for the second year in a row.

The market opened that at Houston -1.5, and he immediately bet down to -2/-2.5. It’s since been settled at the Cougars -2 as the market finally shows the right level of respect for Sampson’s group.

In a game between two elite coaches and two elite teams, Houston’s main advantages are big enough for me to score two points. I would not put more than two, because I expect this game to be close.

Take: Houston -2 or better

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