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As the March Madness Tournament heads into the Round of 32, half of the teams have been eliminated. 32 teams remain and eight more will be sent home on Saturday alone.
1 seeded Houston and 9 seeded Auburn will square off on Saturday in a thriller. One team will be sent home early, and the other will have a chance to play in the Sweet 16. New sports bettors can enjoy this game even more by betting on it.
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Houston has everything you look for in a championship team: they have excellent defense and a guard that can singlehandedly take over a game.
That helped the Cougars cruise to a 31-3 record and the second overall seed entering the March Madness Tournament. Houston also won solid non-conference games against Saint Mary’s (CA), and Virginia.
The Cougars will surely go as far as their defense and guard Marcus Sasser takes them.
Their defense ranks fourth in adjusted efficiency, and they hold opponents to just 56.5 points per game. Houston has also held opponents to under 70 points in 13 of their last 14 games. The one game they didn’t was in the AAC Tournament final, where they lost to Memphis.
Sasser missed that AAC Championship game last week due to a groin injury. And the bad news for Houston is that the senior guard re-aggravated that injury in the first round against Northern Kentucky and didn’t return.
His availability will be big for Houston’s run.
Sasser is the team’s best scorer, and if he can’t go on Saturday, it’ll be a big loss for Houston. The 6-foot-1 guard averages 17.1 points, 3.2 assists, and 1.7 steals per game this season.
But if he can’t go, the Cougars have players capable of stepping up. Jarace Walker, J’Wan Roberts, and Jamal Shead all have the talent to do so. Walker (16 points), Roberts (11 points), and Shead (13 points) all scored in double figures against Northern Kentucky and averaged 10-plus points per game on the season.
Shead, who averages 10.3 points and 5.4 assists, has struggled without Sasser in the lineup, but he needs to step up. He shot just 3-for-14 on Sunday against Memphis in the AAC Championship and 6-for-15 in the first-round win.
Houston is 7-2 in Quad 1 wins this season.
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Auburn started the year 16-3, ranked 15 overall in the AP Poll on Jan 23, and appeared to be headed toward another high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But the Tigers came back down to earth. They finished the season with nine losses in 13 games, were eliminated in the second round of the SEC Tournament, and finished with a 20-12 record.
A big reason for that skid was their defense. Auburn gave up 70-plus points in five straight games to end the season and lost three of those matchups. The Tigers can score but they are their best when they play defense.
In the first round against Iowa, the Tigers' defense held the Hawkeyes to just 26 first-half points. They also held a good shooting team to just 25.9% from behind the arch for the game.
Auburn’s defense was shaky in the second half and allowed Iowa to slowly march back from a 17-point deficit. Giving up 49 second-half points won’t be a recipe for success in the tournament. Luckily though, the Tigers couldn’t be stopped either.
Bruce Pearl’s team is extremely scary when they are hitting their shots and playing intense defense, at the same time.
Auburn comes in 46 in offensive efficiency and 27 in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They can do both really well at times and are led by four double-digit scorers this season.
All four players – Wendell Green (15 points), Johni Broome (19 points), Jaylin Williams (11 points), and Allen Flanigan (10 points) – scored in double figures against Iowa in the first round. Green and Broome, however, are the team’s most important players.
At 6-foot-10, Broome has done a nice job all season for Auburn inside. Along with his 19 points, he had 12 rebounds and five blocks in Thursday’s win. As for Green, he didn’t have his best shooting performance (3-for-10) but hit key free throws down the stretch.
Auburn struggles from deep and shot just 31% from three this season, which could hurt them in a game against a stout Houston defense.
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This game will practically be a home game for Auburn, as the game will be played in Birmingham, Alabama. Houston, though, enters the game as a 5.5 favorite.
The biggest question will be if Sasser plays in this game. He is Houston’s best player and without him, they might struggle offensively. The Cougars shoot a solid 46% from the field but are middle of the pack in free throws and three-pointers made.
Houston is also a great offensive-rebounding team. Auburn just gave up 14 offensive rebounds to Iowa in the first round and sometimes struggles to secure defensive rebounds.
Speaking of defense, the Tigers already don’t shoot a high percentage from the field or from three. Now, they face a Houston team that ranks first nationally in field goal percentage against (36.4) and second nationally in three-point percentage against (27.8).
Both teams do excel in getting steals and blocks. Auburn averages eight steals and 5.1 blocks per game, while Houston averages 8.3 steals and 4.8 blocks. Limiting turnovers will be big, especially since the Cougars are coming off a 17-turnover game.
There isn’t much that Auburn is better at than Houston. The Tigers rank slightly better in offensive rebounds and blocks per game, but the Cougars are almost better in every other category.
For that reason:
Location: Birmingham, Alabama @Legacy Arena
Game Time & Date: 3/18 @7:10 ET
TV Network: TBS
Streaming: TBS App, March Madness Live
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