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NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview: Houston Cougars vs. Syracuse Orange

by March 25, 2021

In the wet-sock game of the Sweet 16, Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange will face off against Kelvin Sampson and the Houston Cougars. Stop me if you have heard this one before, but Syracuse came into the tournament as a double-digit seed and upset two teams (who apparently didn’t understand the fact that Syracuse plays a zone defense) to reach the Sweet 16.

You can very much argue that Houston is lucky to be in this spot, as Rutgers essentially handed them the game in the end. The Cougars outscored the Scarlet Nights by 13 in the final 10 minutes of the game to ink out a victory. If you find a win probability chart, it looks like a roller coaster, slowly ascending towards a Rutgers victory, before dropping straight down in favor of the Cougars. Whatever the case, these are the two teams facing off and nothing is changing that, so let’s preview this Saturday matchup.

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  • Lines: BetRivers has the odds at Houston -6.5; O/U 139.5
  • Location: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
  • Start Time: 9:55 pm ET
  • Television: TBS


If Houston were to have an Achilles-heel, it would be that they foul a ton, and their over-aggression leads to free points. Nearly a quarter of opponents’ points come from the charity-stripe when facing Houston, which ranks 8th highest in all of college basketball. What’s good for Houston in this case, is that Syracuse rarely relies on getting to the hoop and drawing contact. They shoot three-pointers and mid-rangers, where the Cougars excel defensively, so I see the Orange having a tough time scoring in this matchup.

When Syracuse does take looks near the hoop, they score at a high clip shooting 68% vs. opponents in near-proximity shots, ranking 7th best in college basketball. So if they hope to upset yet another opponent, they really have to change their offensive game plan and use their size advantage to manufacture offense from the inside-out, rather than the outside-in.

An underrated part of Houston’s game is their efficient offense, ranking 7th in KenPom. Their offensive rebounding percentage sits just shy of 40%, ranking second-best in the league. And this will be the X-Factor. Syracuse is awful at limiting offensive boards, ranking 340th in the nation at it. The Cougars don’t have to be all that efficient to win this game, simply because of the way that Syracuse plays defense, Houston should rebound at a remarkable rate and capitalize on the plethora of second chance opportunities they will be granted.  


  • Houston is 4-2 ATS and 6-0 straight up in neutral site games 
  • Houston is 18-9 ATS as a favorite
  • Houston is 7-3 ATS and 9-1 straight up with 4+ days of rest 
  • Syracuse is 4-0 ATS in neutral site games
  • Syracuse is 14-2 ATS vs. ranked opponents 
  • The over is 8-3 in Syracuse’s games as an underdog

Bottom Line

I understand that in the past Syracuse gets underrated and then walks their way to the Final Four, but this Houston team lines up quite well with the Orange. The Cougars will attempt far more shots this game, and not only will Houston be more efficient at scoring, but they will capitalize on their misses at a far higher clip than Syracuse will.

Slowing down the game, and soaking up the shot clock until they find a good look down low is the recipe Syracuse needs to play with if they hope to keep it close with the Cougars. Syracuse can’t expect to shoot above 40% from deep as they have in their past two contests, so they will have to get creative offensively to keep up. Jim Boeheim has obviously done this before and is a proven coach, but I think Houston will be too much for this Orange team to handle and walk away with a win and a cover. 

Pick: Houston -6.5

Check out our other Sweet 16 game previews for Saturday’s matchups:

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Ryan Coleman is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Ryan, check out his archive.

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