The first round begins on Friday after every First Four game was completed on Thursday. The start of what most people refer to as the start of the NCAA Tournament was pushed back a day to give an extra day off for Covid-19 protocols. It feels weird talking about the first day being played on a Friday, but it will feel even weirder when Saturday isn’t the Round of 32.
In any case, I’m all for a full day of college basketball on Saturday throughout the afternoon and evening. There was some exciting action on Thursday in the First Four. UCLA and Michigan State had to be the game of the night, as the Spartans blew a 44-33 lead at the half to lose by a score of 86-80 in overtime.
Michigan State is typically a team under Tom Izzo that rises up during March Madness time. Izzo has been known for taking some average regular season teams and turning them into contenders come March. However, the Spartans are gone after losing in the First Four play-in game. The win was right there for the taking, but a series of bad mistakes down the stretch sunk the Spartans.
In the early evening hours, the No. 15 Cleveland State Vikings will be looking for an upset over the No. 2 Houston Cougars. Cleveland State won the Horizon League Tournament last weekend, with a 80-69 win over the Oakland Grizzlies. They needed overtime to beat Fort Wayne in the tournament opener, 108-104, or the Vikings would have been upset by the No. 10 seed in that one.
Cleveland State was able to settle down and dispatch No. 8 Milwaukee, 71-65, and then No. 3 Oakland, 80-69. Oakland was coming on nicely towards the end of the season, so that wasn’t a cakewalk against the Grizzlies. Houston is coming off a 91-54 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats last Sunday to win the AAC Tournament.
They beat Tulane, 77-52, and Memphis, 76-74, then the blowout over the Bearcats. The Cougars finished the season at 24-3, while Cleveland State checks in with a record of 19-7. They were tied with Wright State for the No. 1 seed at 16-4 in the Horizon League Tournament and received the tiebreaker. Head below for our free Cleveland State vs. Houston pick on March 19, 2021 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Cleveland State Vikings (No. 15) vs. Houston Cougars (No. 2) NCAA Tournament Betting Odds:
Cleveland State vs. Houston Prediction:
Houston is going to be by far the best defense that Cleveland State has seen this season and it doesn’t compare. The Cougars rate as one of the best defenses in the country. There isn’t a team that they likely couldn’t frustrate in the NCAA. It would be interesting to see what Gonzaga could do against Houston, but certainly the Cougars would have a moment. Note that Houston conceded an average of 57.6 points per game.
There is only one team in the country better at preventing points from being scored. There is no better team in the country at limiting field goal percentage, though. Houston has been holding teams to a field goal percentage of 37%. If Cleveland State plans on shooting from beyond the arc, they have to expect that the Cougars are going to prevent them getting open looks. Opponents are shooting just 27.4% from three against Houston. I think it’s going to be tough for Cleveland State to score from everywhere on the floor, though.
The Vikings were able to heat up towards conference tournament time, but now they’ve been on a layoff, and get one of the worst possible matchups in the first round. It’s unlikely that they are going to be able to replicate what they did in the Horizon League Tournament. Cleveland State is 229th in the NCAA with 69.5 points scored per game. They are shooting 31.7% from deep for 272nd in the country. Even worse has been their free throw shooting. Cleveland State is hitting just 66.4% from the line for 305th in the NCAA.
Note that these offensive numbers were in the Horizon League. They never had to play a defense like the Cougars this season. And defense isn’t all that Houston can do. The Cougs are 53rd in the nation with 77.2 points per game. Expect Houston to dominate the boards, as they’re 16th defensively and fifth in offensive boards. Quentin Grimes likely has a big day, but underneath is where Houston likely pulls away in this one. There are going to be upsets on opening day in the NCAA Tournament, but I don’t see Cleveland State beating Houston being one of them. I have Houston pulling away for a 77-53 win to cover 20 points.