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Anyone pining to pin down a potential Final Four would be wise to tap Ken Pomeroy’s vast database for some guidance, which illuminates a sterling quartet of candidates.

In adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, four programs are among the top 10 in each category—Gonzaga (first and 10th, respectively), Michigan (seventh and fourth), Illinois (ninth and seventh), and Houston (10th and fifth).

These are the nation’s de facto élite, so discounting the Cougars—fifth in the NCAA’s NET rankings—would not be unwise.

The program that became famous under longtime boss Guy Lewis—with Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney in the 1960s, and Clyde Drexler and the rest of Phi Slama Jama in the ’80s—is a demon to deal with under coach Kelvin Sampson.

This clash with Memphis will be a rough joust, a Battle Royale in which every point will come at a premium price.

The Tigers and Cougars are two of the toughest three defenses to shoot against, Houston foes hitting only 37.2% of their shot attempts—the lowest in the land, as is its 42.4% effective field goal-percentage defense.

Memphis opponents sink a third-lowest 38.5%. The Cougars and Tigers make sure that, no matter what, the other guys will require some aspirin by halftime.

At home, Houston only allows the other guys to connect on 35.7% of their attempts, second-lowest in the nation. On the road, Memphis among the stingiest 20 keeping opponents under 40%, at 39.9%.

DraftKingsPoint SpreadTotals
Memphis+11 (-110)O 131 (-110)
Houston-11 (-110)U 131 (-110)

The Cougars restrict foes to 57.8 points a game, behind only Loyola Chicago (56) in college hoops, and Houston allows a paltry 53.7 over its past three games. Memphis is tied with Jackson State, at 12th, with an average yield of 62.1 points.

In addition, 15 of the Tigers’ 21 games have ended Under their totals. For all teams who have played at least 20 games, that is the highest Under rate in the game.

Solid With The Ball, Too

The kicker for Houston is its offensive efficiency. TeamRankings has it at 1.032, the best in the country, and it also possesses the highest home rate, at the Fertitta Center.

In the American Athletic Conference, the Cougars (20-3, 13-3) are third in both 3-point (35.9) and 2-point percentage (49.8), and their free-throw success rate of 72.3% is second in the league.

Memphis (15-6, 11-3) plays sticky defense, too, and its 3-point defense (24.4%) is the best in the AAC. Perimeter shooting is a prime element of Houston’s attack, but that figures to dip against the pesky Tigers.

Adding to a likely Under is Memphis’s poor 60.9% free-throw touch in league games. Only one of Houston’s past 19 opponents has tallied more than 65 points.

Second Chance

In April 2014, Houston AD Mack Rhoades hired Sampson, six years after the coach had been show-cause banished from the game for a raft of indiscretions. Former Cougars football player Chris Pezman took over as AD in December 2017 and couldn’t be happier with his hoops general.

Pezman told PaperCity magazine, “To have the type of success we’re having with the type of kids that we have, that are just grinders, blue-collar kids that really play their butts off, it’s fun to see.”

Quentin Grimes, the junior guard who averaged 22.4 points in five games early in Houston’s season, had a recent four-game dip in which he didn’t play in two and only scored 13 total points in the other two.

But he’s back. Grimes, who began his career at Kansas, has poured in 117 points in his previous five games, including 33 in a shellacking of Western Kentucky.

Claws Out

Houston has played its past three games at Fertitta, all triumphs by an average score of 90-54. Predicting it to cover a double-figure spread against Memphis is enticing, but the Tigers won’t allow the Cougars to run away from them.

Landers Nolly, a sophomore forward for Memphis who transferred from Virginia Tech, has nailed only six of his past 24 3-point attempts. In six of his previous 10 games he has recorded only one 2-point basket, only two in another one.

Meanwhile, Boogie Ellis, a sophomore guard from San Diego, has rung up 48 points in three consecutive games for a second time this season. In that trio, he made 12 of 25 shots beyond the arc.

Junior forward DeAndre Williams will also be a defensive priority in Sampson’s strategy to keep this a low-scoring affair. A half-muzzle on that trio will suffice, but his guys will have just as tough a time against the Tigers.

About the Author
Rob Miech

Rob Miech

Rob Miech is a writer and contributor for Gaming Today, covering soccer and producing sports betting features. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners.

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