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Houston Cougars guard Marcus Sasser. (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire)
April 2nd, 2021
On one hand, it's sad to think there are only three games remaining in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. March Madness has once again produced stunning upsets and Cinderella stories, leading us into the Final Four on Saturday.
On the other hand, there are still opportunities for bettors to get in on the action, and Houston and UCLA are both highly intriguing options as underdogs.
The Houston Cougars have rolled through the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament, with their stiffest challenge coming in the second round, where they narrowly pulled off a three-point win over Rutgers.
All four of Houston’s victories came against teams that were double-digit seeds, but that changes with a matchup against Baylor, a No. 1 seed in this tournament and a team that was ranked in the top three during the regular season.
Houston is currently a five-point underdog against Baylor. The Cougars will likely rely on their defense to keep this game close enough to potentially upset the Bears.
17-point lead for the Houston Cougars at halftime over the Oregon State Beavers #MarchMadness Marcus Sasser leads the Cougars with 11 PTS 🔥🎥: @marchmadnesspic.twitter.com/hBeMSXIn2N— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) March 30, 2021
17-point lead for the Houston Cougars at halftime over the Oregon State Beavers #MarchMadness Marcus Sasser leads the Cougars with 11 PTS 🔥🎥: @marchmadnesspic.twitter.com/hBeMSXIn2N
Houston’s defense has been on display in this tournament and all season. The Cougars have allowed just 57.6 opposition points per game, the second-best rating in the country. In this tournament, the highest single-game point total they allowed was 61, and that was against Oregon State in the Elite Eight.
The key for Houston’s defense will be defending against a Baylor team that loves to shoot three-pointers. According to ESPN, Baylor averaged 10.3 made three-pointers per game during the regular season. If the Cougars can keep the Bears away from the three-point line, they could just pull off an upset.
The UCLA Bruins are providing that quintessential college basketball Cinderella Story.
Let’s not forget that the Bruins needed a furious second-half comeback to force overtime against Michigan State in the First Four, before taking over in the extra period just to get into the NCAA Tournament.
Since then, they have upset BYU, Alabama and No. 1 seed Michigan to get into the Final Four.
The prize for making it this far as a massive pre-tournament +12000 longshot? A Final Four matchup with the Gonzaga Bulldogs, who continues to look unstoppable and are a 14-point favorite for Saturday.
Michigan entered the Elite Eight averaging 81.3 PPG during the NCAA Tournament. It scored 49 against UCLA. Bruins' defense has been beyond elite.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 31, 2021
Michigan entered the Elite Eight averaging 81.3 PPG during the NCAA Tournament. It scored 49 against UCLA. Bruins' defense has been beyond elite.
The Bruins managed to outscore Alabama in a high-scoring thriller in the Sweet 16. Two days later, they grinded out an ugly defensive struggle against Michigan.
The heavily favored Bulldogs have not lost a game all season. Their closest margin of victory this season was five points, when they beat West Virginia 87-82 in December. The Bulldogs have averaged 91.6 points per game, while giving up 64 points per game. Their offense should hold an edge, but UCLA should take confidence from their performance against Michigan earlier this week.
The Cinderella Story will end here for the Bruins. They will very likely lose. And there’s a strong chance it’s by double digits. But 14 points seems a manageable number for UCLA, given their success over a No. 1 seed already.
Let's switch gears to hockey and a Friday night matchup in the NHL’s North Division.
The Toronto Maple Leafs face the Winnipeg Jets, with the latter currently a home underdog with moneyline odds of +120 at TwinSpires Sports.
The Jets have won four of their last five games, and have caught up enough to the Maple Leafs to make the race to win the North Division interesting going into the stretch drive. Toronto has also won four of its last five games, but winning the second half of a back-to-back can prove challenging.
Expect the Jets to push for the win and to close the gap in the division to just a single point with a regulation victory. They could also get a boost to their lineup if captain Blake Wheeler can play tonight. He left Wednesday’s game with an apparent injury, but there was promising news Friday morning that he could be available.
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