The Cincinnati Bearcats and Houston Cougars battle for the AAC Championship at FedEx Forum in Memphis Sunday, with the tournament final tipping off at 3:15 p.m. ET. Jason Logan has been all over the AAC postseason and gives his best bets and pointspread prediction for Cincinnati versus Houston.
CINCINNATI BEARCATS VS HOUSTON COUGARS (-4, 128.5)
Defense may be the calling card of the Cougars, but offense has been the order of their current four-game winning streak. Houston is averaging more than 80 points per game during this run and has sprinted ahead in the opening minutes of three of those games.
The Cougars outpaced the Memphis Tigers to a 21-10 lead in the semifinals of the AAC tournament Saturday and went up 20-16 over UConn in the quarters. And while they didn’t beat Cincinnati in a race to 20 in their March 10 meeting in the season finale (18-20), the Cougars did blow away SMU early on, owning a 21-13 lead in the opening 10 minutes.
Houston’s 3-point prowess will push this one over the edge, with the team shooting better than 41 percent from distance over the past four games. They buried 12 of 23 triples in an 85-69 road win at Cincy to end the regular season.
PREDICTION: Houston Race To 20
FIRST HALF BET
Cincinnati is the 12th-ranked defense in the land and allows just 28.8 points per opening half on the year. However, that stingy play to tip off games has slipped in the AAC tournament, giving up 32 points in the first half to Wichita State Saturday and 38 points to SMU in the tournament quarterfinals.
That softening defense stretches back to the last meeting with Houston, in which the Bearcats budged for 37 points – setting the stage for a blowout loss. The teams combined for 72 points in the opening 20 minutes and bettors should expect another busy first half on the scoreboard Sunday.
PREDICTION: Over 59 first half points
Houston is a tough team to figure out and it’s shown it can win basketball games on both ends of the floor during the AAC tournament. The Cougars’ core though is a defense ranked eighth in the country, and one that tallies an effective defensive field goal percentage of 42.2 – tops in the KenPom Ratings and a key “Four Factors” data point.
When the going gets tough, UH will lean on its defense to drum up bad shots, generate long rebounds, and push transition basketball down their opponents’ throats. Cincinnati is coming off a bruising battle with a very physical Wichita State team and will find itself chasing down Houston’s fast break in the second half.
FULL GAME TOTAL
The Cougars’ best plan of attack versus Memphis Saturday was the slow down the tempo and not allow the Tigers to get off and running, feeding energy to their home crowd inside the FedEx Forum. And they executed on that for the most part, limiting Memphis to only 58 points on their home floor.
Against the Bearcats, however, Houston is going to want to take Cincy out of its comfort zone – which is among the slowest paces in the country – and suck UC into a track meet. The Bearcats found themselves in a similar style shootout versus SMU in the quarters and were very lucky to escape that game.
In their March 10 meeting, the Cougars dominated the glass and got up and down the floor for 63 field goal attempts. In its last three games, UH is averaging 66 attempts – a significant jump from their average of 59 per game.
PREDICTION: Over 128.5
FULL GAME SIDE
The Bearcats just haven’t looked right over the past four games. Cincinnati backed into the postseason on two straight losses, including getting boat raced by Houston in the season finale, and then lured into a track meet with a short-handed SMU squad that eventually ran out of gas in the tournament semifinals.
Granted, the semifinal win over Wichita State was a solid one – given how well WSU was playing at the time – but Cincy made it hard on itself (and bettors) by squandering a 13-point lead midway through the second half.
Houston is playing at an extremely high level and is also fueled by a bit of revenge after losing to the Bearcats in this same final last season. The Cougars still have the taste of that one-point loss in their mouths and I’m sure head coach Kelvin Sampson will make sure to remind them some time before tipoff Sunday.
PREDICTION: Houston -4
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