#11 Texas Longhorns vs. #6 Cincinnati Bearcats -1.5
Cincinnati went from “bubble” to number six seed in the matter of two fantastic weeks to close the season, earning big wins over Marquette, South Florida and Seton Hall and then storming to the championship game in the Big East Tournament. Texas needed a similar late-season push to earn their at-large bid, though it was nothing quite as dramatic. In fact, outside of a Big 12 Quarterfinal win, the best win on the Longhorn resume since January was a home win over Kansas State. During that stretch they were 0-5 against Missouri, Kansas, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
It’s hard to feel very confident in the Longhorns heading into this contest, which makes me really question how this line is so tight at just one and a half. Cincinnati has not only played well in terms of winning, they have been covering for the most part as well. They have covered in seven of their last nine, meanwhile Texas has failed to cover in five of their last seven games.
Cincinnati has the personnel to negate any athletic advantages that Texas might have over some other teams, even those with more talent, so I don’t expect them to have too much difficulty with the Longhorns trapping defense. Also, expect Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick to make things very difficult for the Big 12’s leading scorer, J’Covan Brown.
The difference maker in my opinion will be the exact same thing it has been for Cincinnati the last three weeks, riding the strong play and resurgent leadership of big man Yancy Gates. Written off as done after his seven game suspension by most fans (including yours truly), Gates has been fantastic down the stretch and is playing much like a young DeMarcus Cousins of two seasons ago. He has excellent hands and it simply massive down on the block and nearly impossible to root out of position once he establishes it. Texas has some length, but I don’t think they have the strength to body him up in the post for forty minutes.
The only question that remains is “does Cincinnati still have enough in the tank to keep it up?” It happens frequently; think Syracuse of the Jerry McNamara era, a team gets red-hot in the conference tournament, vaults up a half dozen seed lines, then completely flames in the first round of the tourney.
Of course, there is also UConn from last season… hmmm….
I don’t think UC is winning a national title, but I don’t think the last three weeks were a mirage either. The team I saw last week in Madison Square Garden is a five to six point favorite over the Texas team I watched in the Big 12 Semis. Perhaps even wider than that.
Give me the Bearcats laying the meager point and a half.
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