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Auburn Tigers have a rare chance to shock top-seeded Houston Cougars in their second round NCAA Tournament matchup. Can the Tigers pull off an upset against a Houston team that has been hit hard by injuries?
The Cougars are without star guard Marcus Sasser, who suffered a groin injury during Thursday's win against Northern Kentucky. But their roster boasts talent elsewhere: all-AAC guard Jamal Shead and projected lottery pick Jarace Walker.
Houston Cougars are the top seed in this year's tournament and will be looking to secure a spot in the Sweet 16 when they take on Auburn in Round of 32. Coming off of an impressive 63-52 win against 16th seed Northern Kentucky, they hope to continue their strong play against the Tigers.
Marcus Sasser is the captain of the Cougars' offense, leading them in scoring with 16.7 points per game. Additionally, he provides an impressive assist rate of 3.1 assists per game while playing nearly 28 minutes of action per contest. At age 25, Sasser is one of the top seniors in college basketball and can score from any angle on the floor.
Sasser is joined by J'wan Roberts and Jamal Shead as Houston's star players. These two men are renowned for their offensive prowess, creating for others, but also possess exceptional defensive talent.
Houston must keep their offense moving to prevent Auburn from scoring too many points. Their defense ranks fourth in Adjusted Efficiency and allows only 59.7 points per game on average while allowing opponents to shoot 47.8% from the field. With this arsenal at their disposal, Houston is ready for any opponent that comes their way!
The Cougars boast a strong defensive team, but they can be prone to turnovers at times. They rank 116th nationally in turnover percentage and must address this weakness if they hope to have an edge against Auburn on the other end of the court.
Auburn has won four of their last five games against Houston and is 4-1 ATS this season as a double-digit underdog. They are 6-2 ATS when games open at 131.5 points or greater and 6-1 ATS when the total exceeds 131.5 in this series.
Auburn's offense struggled against Iowa in the first round, but they remain a formidable offensive team. Four players average double figures this season and they've secured almost 33% of available offensive rebounds. To have any chance against top-seeded Houston Cougars on Tuesday night, Auburn must improve on both ends of the court - especially defensively.
Houston Cougars are the number one seed in this year's NCAA Tournament and will be looking to reach the Final Four when they take on Auburn on Saturday. The Tigers have proven they can cover spreads multiple times this season, most recently with an impressive 83-75 win against Iowa in the first round.
Both teams must rely on defense to have any chance at victory in this game. Houston must ensure they can limit Auburn's scoring and steals this season, as their defense ranks fourth in KenPom's adjusted efficiency ratings with 27.3% shooting from deep and 43% from inside the arc so far this season.
In addition to restricting offense, the Houston defense must also be able to protect the ball well. The Cougars have had success controlling turnovers during this season's tournament and must attempt to keep the ball out of Auburn's hands as much as possible.
It is essential to remember that the Houston Cougars have been able to defeat teams considered among the top 25 in this season's tournament. Furthermore, they have stayed healthy and played excellently this year.
They have achieved this by restricting fouls given out and keeping teams from shooting over 50% from the field. The Houston defense has kept games to around 60 points, creating a great matchup for both sides.
Marcus Sasser's health will be the key for this Houston team as they look to advance past any other team in the tournament and reach the Final Four. As the best guard in this tournament, Sasser leads a talented squad that could potentially go all the way to the championship game. When Sasser is healthy, this Houston squad is one of the best in America.
Auburn boasts a formidable defense, allowing only 65.5 points per game this season. Houston has had some difficulty with turnovers, but they are still managing to limit them at an admirable rate.
Auburn was successful at keeping the ball out of Iowa's hands, which limited them to open shooters. That made for a stellar offensive showing from the Tigers; however, they should expect some regression in this game against Florida State.
The odds for this game are heavily in favor of both teams' defenses, although Houston faces an added obstacle with Marcus Sasser's injury and Jamal Shead's uncertain status on offense.
Sasser suffered an injury during the first round against Northern Kentucky and missed the second half of that game. He is considered a first-team All-American and an important cog in Houston's offense.
Without him, the Cougars plan to slow down their offense and focus on defense. They are ranked fourth nationally in Adjusted Efficiency and will seek to replicate that performance against an Auburn squad coming off of a win over Iowa.
On the other hand, Houston is playing with a lot to lose here. They face uncertainty on defense and may need to slow down their offense if Marcus Sasser or Jamal Shead are limited or unable to suit up.
No matter Sasser's status, this game should be a fierce fight for the championship. If Houston can contain Auburn's scoring and keep it close, they should have no problem winning by six or more goals. But if Sasser struggles and the game turns into an offensive blitzkrieg, I believe the odds favor Houston significantly in this contest.
Tigers and Cougars are both favorites to advance to the Sweet 16 in this matchup, but both teams have some injury concerns. Houston star guard Marcus Sasser suffered a groin injury during their first-round win against Northern Kentucky, while Kelvin Sampson has expressed concern over third-leading scorer Jamal Shead's knee issue.
Houston remains one of the favorites to win this tournament despite injuries. After beating No. 16 Northern Kentucky 63-52 in Thursday's Round of 64 game, they enter this matchup as 5.5-point favorites at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Auburn's offense has struggled at times this season, raising serious doubts that they can sustain consistent scoring against a defense that ranks fourth nationally in Adjusted Efficiency. Houston's impressive defensive play against Iowa should serve as a reminder to Auburn that it needs to be much more cautious with its own offense going forward.
Houston must improve its offensive game if it hopes to avoid another loss. The Cougars need to limit turnovers and create second chances on the offensive glass in order to avoid getting into an early hole against a team that shoots 51% on 2-point attempts while creating nearly 21 free throw opportunities per game.
The Tigers are led by junior forward Johni Broome, who is averaging 14.2 points and 8.5 rebounds. He can make an impact in this game after dominating Iowa with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocked shots.
Jarace Walker, a projected lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, led the Cougars with 16 points and six rebounds during their opening-round win against Northern Kentucky. Expect him to have an impactful role against Auburn's strong frontcourt.
Houston has an excellent chance to cover the spread in this game. They are 5-1 ATS in their last seven games against ranked teams and have won three of their last four neutral-site contests. Houston will look for another victory on Friday afternoon against Stanford.