The second-seeded Houston Cougars try to avoid the string of upsets that the 11th-seeded Syracuse Orange have been pulling off. The two teams meet in the Sweet 16 on Saturday night in Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The winner of this Midwest Region contest will advance to face either Loyola Chicago or Oregon State in the Elite Eight on Monday.
Syracuse (18-9) has advanced with wins over sixth-seeded San Diego State and third-seeded West Virginia. The Orange are playing in their sixth Sweet 16 since 2010. They advanced to the Elite Eight in 2012 and the Final Four in 2013 and 2016.
Jim Boeheim’s club finished eighth in the ACC in the regular season, going 9-7 against conference opponents. The Orange lost in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament to top-seeded Virginia.
Houston (26-3) enters this game on a nine-game winning streak, winning the American Athletic Conference tournament before the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars routed Cleveland State in the NCAA first round before rallying for a three-point win over Rutgers in the second round.
Coach Kelvin Sampson’s squad advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2019 before falling to Kentucky. It was the first time the Cougars had advanced past the second round since they reached consecutive national championship games in 1983 and 1984.
Houston is a six-point favorite when looking at the college basketball odds, with the over/under set at 140½.
Doing It Again
One of the feel-good stories of the NCAA Tournament has been the father-son duo of Jim Boeheim and Buddy Boeheim. They have been leading Syracuse to another Cinderella run. The Orange are in the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed for the third time since 2016. And furthermore, the younger Boeheim is leading the way on the floor.
In two NCAA Tournament wins, the junior guard is averaging 27.5 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 13-of-23 from 3-point range. Boeheim is averaging 18.0 points per game on the season. He has scored at least 25 points in each of Syracuse’s four ACC tournament and NCAA Tournament games.
But the Orange are more than just the coach’s son. There are three players — senior forward Marek Dolezaj, sophomore forward Quincy Guerrier and sophomore guard Joseph Girard III — that scored 12 points apiece in the second-round win over West Virginia. Dolezaj also had six rebounds, five assists and two steals. Meanwhile, Guerrier had seven rebounds and five blocks. Girard added six rebounds and seven assists to his dozen points.
The real story of Syracuse’s postseason success, of course, is the team’s 2-3 zone defense. It has been befuddling many opponents at this time of the year. The Orange have great length to make it difficult to penetrate the zone with passes. They held the Aztecs and Mountaineers to 35.8 and 37.1% shooting from the floor, respectively.
Houston plays a fair bit of defense as well, ranking second in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 57.9 points per game. The Cougars lead the country in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to make just 37.3% of their shots from the field.
Junior guard Quentin Grimes leads the offensive charge, averaging 18.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.4 3-pointers per game. He’s averaging 20.0 points and has hit 9-of-17 3-pointers in the Cougars’ two NCAA Tournament victories.
Sophomore guard Marcus Sasser contributes 13.3 points per game and has hit 66 3-pointers on the season. Senior guard DeJon Jarreau is the team’s third double-figure scorer, averaging 10.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and a team-high 4.1 assists per game.
For a team with only three losses on the season, the Cougars aren’t getting a lot of hype as being title-contenders. But they may just like it that way, as Syracuse and Loyola Chicago garner the headlines, taking some pressure off Houston as it makes its way through the tournament. Additionally, to check out more specific information about the NCAAB props available for the Arkansas vs Tennessee matchup.
Syracuse vs Houston: A Chess Match
This will be an interesting matchup, with Syracuse’s 2-3 zone not a typical zone defense that just lets shooters take open shots. Grimes will have someone in his face for much of the time that the Cougars have the ball, despite it not being a man-to-man situation.
On the other end, Sampson will certainly have his team focused on containing Boeheim’s outside shooting. The Cougars have allowed over 65 points just once in their current winning streak, and they don’t plan for it to happen in this one either.
As much as Syracuse has a history of NCAA Tournament runs, Houston has the better team in this one. When making your college basketball picks, take the Cougars to win and cover.