Coming into the tournament, Houston had allowed opponents to shoot 29% from three. This is usually when I start screaming about regression to the college basketball average of 34%.
Houston doubled down on three point defense in the tournament, allowing UAB and Illinois to hit 26% and 24% respectively. This is usually when I double down on regression.
However, Houston has held opponents under 30% from three in each of the last four seasons. They have made the Sweet Sixteen in each of these seasons with a tournament.
Five seasons ago in 2017-18, Houston held opponents to 32% from three, still well better than college basketball average. They would have made the Sweet Sixteen that season as well if not for a buzzer beating three from Michigan’s Jordan Poole in the Round of 32.
Houston coach Kelvin Sampson does an amazing job. This team does not have a single starter from last season’s Final Four team, but their defensive intensity and execution make for textbook material. They continue to defy three point regression as well.
In the Sweet Sixteen, Houston plays 1 seed Arizona, a team that has surprised the college basketball world this season. Long time Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd took over as head coach, and Arizona started the season 29th based on points in the preseason AP poll.
It might seem odd to reference a preseason poll during March. However, my analysis shows that the higher ranked team in the preseason AP poll won 71.8% of tournament games (2002 through 2017). This wisdom of crowds approach gives an accurate assessment of talent, and talent wins in basketball.
The pollsters probably underestimated Arizona’s talent, which includes two players projected as NBA draft picks:
- Bennedict Mathurin, an athletic 6’6” wing who is shooting 53% from 2 and 37% from 3.
- Christian Koloko, a 7’1” big with a 7’5” wingspan that averages almost three blocks a game and makes 65% of his two point shots.
Arizona has the 8th best offense by my adjusted points per possession. However, they are awful at taking care of the ball, as they rank 235th in turnover rate adjusted for opponent.
Originally, I thought this poor turnover rate was due to not having a true point guard. However, after watching more of Arizona, especially against TCU in their last game, they strive for a quick passing game. While this often leads to easy baskets, these same passes can end as turnovers.
My best numbers make Houston and Arizona a pick. While I have the utmost respect for the Arizona team that Tommy Lloyd has put together, I like Houston +2 (available at DraftKings as of Tuesday morning).
Sports betting with a PhD edge
This article was sent to The Power Rank’s email newsletter at 10:24am Eastern on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. This newsletter is a free service that strives to be:
The predictions are based on my PhD research from Stanford. While the primary focus is the NFL and college football, the newsletter touches golf and NBA during the off season.
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