Houston looks to buck trendy in opening round

By Greg Peterson  (VSiN.com) 

March 14, 2018 11:42 PM
Rob Gray (32) should be the difference-maker for Houston vs. San Diego State.
© USA Today Sports Images

Houston (-3.5) vs San Diego St

San Diego State enters the NCAA Tournament on a nine-game winning streak, but it hasn't seen a defense like Houston's. The Cougars are 13th in the country in defensive efficiency and 28th in offensive efficiency. Meantime, San Diego State was struggling to hit 3s until the end of the season.

Houston shoots nearly 39 percent from 3-point range and is 13th in the country in rebound rate. That's all the more impressive given that the team's top rebounder averages just 6.2 boards per game.

Trey Kell is the obvious x-factor for San Diego State. He was injured in February and his return sparked the nine-game run. He had single-digit scoring performances in his first five games, but averaged 18 points in the last four games.

Though Kell is a nice player, it will not be enough to overcome the fact that Rob Gray, who averages 18.5 points and 4.5 assists per game, is the best player on the court.

Peterson pick: Houston wins and covers against a trendy No. 11 seed.

Stephen F. Austin ( 11) vs Texas Tech

Texas Tech struggled with West Virginia this season, going 1-2 with the lone win being a one-point escape at home. Stephen F. Austin is the mid-major version of West Virginia with its full-court press and solid 3-point shooting.

The Lumberjacks defeated LSU on the road this year and played a one-point game against Missouri this year with some holdovers from the 2016 team that bested West Virginia in a 14-over-3 upset in the NCAA Tournament.

Texas Tech has been banged up. Zac Smith came back to the lineup after missing 14 games this season due to injury and leading scorer Keenan Evans hasplayed with lower body injuries. Evans played better in the Big 12 Tournament, but had a three-game stretch in which he had a combined 12 points in three games with the injury.

Peterson pick: As long as Stephen F. Austin gets off to a solid start and does not get stifled by the Red Raiders' strong defense, the Lumberjacks should cover and could have a chance to win outright.

Alabama ( 2) vs Virginia Tech 

Both Alabama and Virginia Tech got some big late-season wins to get into the field. Virginia Tech has the better offense (26th nationally in offensive efficiency), but the Crimson Tide has the best player in the game, Collin Sexton. Sexton averages 19 points per game 

Donta Hall returns to the fray after he missed the team's SEC Tournament Semifinal game due to a concussion. He is one of three double-digit scorers for Alabama and the team's top rebounder.

Peterson pick: Alabama is a poor free-throw shooting team, but usually gets to the line more than its opponents and is 10th in the country in blocked shots per game. If the Crimson Tide can push Virginia Tech off the 3-point line and force the Hokies to go inside, the No. 9 seed has a good chance to get the outright win.

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