Wichita State vs. Houston Odds
The late stages of college basketball season can set up some unfortunate matchups, with wildly different priorities in each locker room.
Thursday’s battle between the Wichita State Shockers and Houston Cougars epitomizes the kinds of games we see across the first week of March.
Houston has its eyes on the NCAA Tournament, locking up not just a high seed, but possibly the top overall seed in the Big Dance. That could set up the Cougars on the ultimate path to a Final Four being played in their home city.
Wichita State, meanwhile, is simply treading water, amidst the middle of the standings in the American Athletic Conference. Unless we see a miracle, the Shockers don’t have much meaning left in their season.
This gap in outlooks can make for an intriguing puzzle for bookmakers and bettors alike.
We’re nearing the end of Year 3 of Isaac Brown’s tenure at the helm in Wichita, following the firing of controversial former head coach Greg Marshall.
Marshall, despite the misgivings that led to his firing, built a winning program. He led the Shockers to seven straight NCAA Tournaments, with a Final Four and No. 1 seed on his resume.
Since Brown took over, the Shockers have splatted back down to Earth, with a loss in the First Four as the lone postseason berth. UConn fled the AAC, and Houston, UCF and Cincinnati are on the way out. Wichita State is left as a program stuck in the middle of a conference with no identity and a future as a one-bid league most years.
This season, the Shockers have played an uninspired brand of ball. Wichita State is 0-9 against KenPom’s top 70 teams. The Shockers have made just 30 percent from long range, among the 15 worst shooting seasons in college hoops.
On the defensive end, where you’d hope to make up for poor shooting, the Shockers have been porous at times, allowing AAC opponents to make a league-high 37 percent from outside the arc.
In the argument about the best team in college basketball this season, the Cougars have to be one of the first names mentioned. Kelvin Sampson’s group has just two losses, but playing in the American Athletic Conference has offered limited chances for statement victories. Non-conference wins over Saint Mary’s, Virginia and Oregon feel like distant memories.
In conference play, without an elite challenger, the Cougars have been in cruise control. Houston is 15-1 SU in conference but just 8-8 ATS, listed as a favorite in every single AAC game. It’s hard to gripe about the performance of a team that’s won nine straight games, yet Houston may have entered the “Gonzaga zone,” where winning conference games simply isn’t good enough.
The Cougars trailed Cincinnati by 10 in the second half at home. This Wichita State team held a lead against Houston in the final eight minutes.
No team is going to be perfect and win every game in a blowout. Yet is it reasonable to expect an elite team to distance itself from lesser opponents on a more consistent basis?
If you’re projecting this Houston team forward into the Big Dance, there may be concerns. Playing a grind-it-out, slow style of basketball leaves the door open for high-variance performances from the opponent. Virginia saw both sides of that coin, losing as a one seed in 2018 and winning the national title the following year.
Houston, at its best, can win it all. When the Cougars go cold or hit a speed bump, lesser teams can hang around or scare them.
Wichita State vs. Houston Betting Pick
There’s not a lot on the Wichita State side here to inspire confidence against a team of Houston’s caliber. With that being said, I still think this line started too high.
Houston’s slow pace allows opponents to stay close throughout a 40-minute affair. In Houston’s last six home games, the Cougars have been a double-digit favorite in each one, yet have only covered twice and lost outright to Temple.
Even though the country’s top defense should be able to smother a mediocre Shockers offense, Houston’s scoring ability is not always in rhythm enough to build a lead this size. I’ll take Wichita State with no intention of this game being truly competitive, though this number allows tons of wiggle room.
Pick: Wichita State +17.5
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