NCAAM Pick December 26, 2020 – Houston Cougars at UCF Knights

Last year, the Iowa Hawkeyes were bad on the road in the Big 10. Despite being a top-25 team much of the season, Iowa was only 2-8 in Big 10 conference road games. The Minnesota Golden Gophers were on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, as they struggled much of the year, playing an absolutely brutal schedule, but managed to protect their home floor with several home wins against top-25 competition.

So, yesterday when I saw that I could back the Golden Gophers as significant home dogs against Iowa, getting +7.5-points, it seems like a great spot to make a play. It was a game where I could make several of my favorite plays. I got to back a home dog, in league play no less, and fade the betting public, as they were backing the Hawkeyes. So, I fired on Minnesota and expected a close game, where the cover was never in jeopardy.

I didn’t go as far as taking the outright upset, and I guess I should have, as the Gophers shocked the world and picked up a 102-95 victory. Marcus Carr scored 30 points, and Brandon Johnson caught absolute fire late in the game, nailing 8 out of 9 3-pointers, to lead the Gophers to the win. Many people see Minnesota as a stone bubble team this year, but with back-to-back wins over Saint Louis and now Iowa, two teams that are expected to be dancing in March, the Gophers are putting together a nice early season resume and look a lot like a tournament level team at 8-1.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffrey is going to wish he had this one back to do over again, as the Hawkeyes really did give this one away late. Iowa had a 5-point lead with just 19 seconds left to play, and they weren’t able to close the game out.

The Hawkeyes led by as many as 13 in the second half and the loss will leave Hawkeyes fans scratching their heads and wondering how they can slow teams down on defense. Iowa is allowing over 100-points per game in their losses this year. For today’s free daily betting pick, we will head to Orlando, where the UFC Knights host the Houston Cougars.

Today’s Game

  • Houston Cougars (6-0) at UCF Knights (3-1)
  • Add Financial, Orlando
  • 10:00 AM PST
  • TV: ABC

The Houston Cougars are undefeated and ranked in the top-10 nationally, and they will take their show on the road today for a huge conference matchup with the UCF Knights. The Cougars are the prohibitive favorites in the American Athletic Conference this season, and a win at UCF would go a long way into solidifying their status as the best team the AAC has to offer.

For UCF, the Knights have surprised a lot of people this year, as they have come out of nowhere to rack up some nice wins in the non-conference. UCF suffered through some Corona Virus related delays, but in four games, they have already managed to pick up three wins against top-100 teams. The only loss for UCF came at Michigan, against a ranked Wolverines team.

Spread:

  • Houston Cougars (-8.5)
  • UCF Knights (+8.5)
Money line:

  • Houston Cougars (-350)
  • UCF Knights (+280)
Total Points:

  • Over 135 (-110)
  • Under 135 (-110)

UCF Knights (3-1)

After a down year last year, Johnny Dawkins looks to have his Knights ready to dance again this year. The general consensus on UCF coming into the season was that they would finish in the middle of the pack in the AAC and likely miss the NCAA tournament.

They were going to be better, but probably not good enough to make the leap needed to go dancing. But after seeing UCF jump out to a 3-1 record despite playing the 5th toughest schedule in the nation, it feels like we may have all sold the Knights a bit short.

The driving force behind this hot start for UCF has been senior Brandon Mahan. Mahan was a former Texas A&M transfer and was a role player for the Knights last season. This year, he has taken control of the team and leads them in scoring and rebounding at 22.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Mahan had a double-double in his last game against the Cincinnati Bearcats, dropping 25 and 10, and in the huge upset road victory at Florida State, Mahan was outstanding with 32-points on 10-13 shooting from the field.

Houston Cougars (6-0)

While the Knights weren’t on the national radar entering the season, we all knew just how good this Houston Cougars team was going to be. Kelvin Sampson has turned the Cougars into a juggernaut in the AAC, and this team doesn’t just have league title aspirations; they see a trip to the Final Four in their future. Former Kansas Jayhawks standout Quentin Grimes leads the way for Houston this year and looks to be an early player of the conference favorite.

Grimes leads the Cougars in scoring at 20-points per game and is second on the team in rebounding at nearly 8 boards a game, mighty impressive for a guy that runs the point. Sampson has done a great job of adding talent through transfers as leading rebounder Justin Gorham came over via Towson, and key 6th man Reggie Chaney came compliments of Arkansas.

Who Do I Like?

As good as Houston has been in recent years, they have had one weakness, road games in conference play. Last year the Cougars finished 13-5 in AAC play, and all five of those losses came on the road. Going back to 2018, Houston has only lost at home in conference play one time, with all of their league losses coming away from Houston. If Houston is going to ever lose a game in the AAC this year, you can bet it is going to come as the road team.

Despite history telling us that Houston isn’t going to be at their best tonight, I still see them finding a way to win this game today. But I do think it is going to be much closer than nearly everybody expects. UCF has shown that they have a legit star in Brandon Mahan and that they can compete with, and beat, legit teams.

That win at Florida State can’t be dismissed as the Seminoles are undefeated with the exception of the loss to the Knights, and it tells me that UCF is going to defend their floor well in this one. The ‘Noles were ranked 15th on Kenpom heading into the game with UCF, and Houston is currently ranked 10th. The data says that the Knights can hang with this Houston team, even though the eye test says maybe not.

The Bet

The public has been backing Houston in this one, and as usual, I am going to go the other direction. Just like my play on Minnesota yesterday, I always love backing decent home teams getting a bunch of points in league play. The Knights aren’t a lock for a top-half finish in the AAC by any means, but with Memphis, Cincinnati, Tulsa, and Wichita State all struggling to start the season, the opportunity is there for UFC to move up a couple of spots in eth league and contend for an NCAA tournament birth in March.

If the Knights are going to find a way to make that happen, they must take care of business tonight at home. I think that they likely end up coming up just a bit short, but just like Minnesota did last night, if the Cougars allow the Knights to hang around, they could hit some shots late and pull off the outright upset. But thanks to the betting public pushing this line towards Houston, I won’t need an upset to cash my ticket, just a competitive contest. Give me the UFC Knights as +8.5-point home floor dogs today in what should be a highly competitive game.

The Bet: UCF Knights +8.5

My Pick
UCF Knights +8.5
Jason Gray / Author

Jason is a true Las Vegas insider as he has called the sports betting capital of the world his home for sixteen years. Jason started out his career in gaming by running the biggest poker tournaments in the world and managing some of the biggest sportsbooks on the strip. Jason has transitioned out of casino operations and has been covering sports betting for the sports geek for just over two years. His main focus is on baseball, college basketball, and the NFL