Houston vs Auburn March Madness Betting Preview

All-American Marcus Sasser's Status Up in the Air for No. 1 seed

The NCAA Tournament continues Saturday with No. 1 seed Houston vs. No. 9 seed Auburn in second-round action from Birmingham, Ala. Tip-off is slated for 7:10 p.m. on TBS. The winner will advance to the Midwest Regional semifinals.

Houston is currently a 5-point favorite and -240 on the moneyline. The over/under is 131.5.

Houston Cougars: Injuries Cloud First-Round Victory

At 19.5 points and -2800 on the moneyline, top-seeded Houston was the second-biggest favorite of Round One. But it certainly didn’t look it! Playing Northern Kentucky was a bigger struggle than it should have been for the talent-laden Cougars, who labored to a 63-52 victory over the 16th-seeded Norse.

Houston trailed midway through the first half and led just 30-27 after 20 minutes. The Cougars’ 11-point margin of victory was their largest lead of the game.

Jarace Walker, the American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, paced Houston with a game-high 16 points, while J’Wan Roberts contributed 11 points and 12 rebounds.

AAC Player of the Year Marcus Sasser, who was a game-time decision with a groin injury, returned to the starting lineup. However, he managed to play just 14 minutes before aggravating the injury and leaving the game. He stayed on the bench with his upper leg wrapped, raising more doubt about his availability moving forward.

Turns out, that’s not the only injury Houston has to worry about. Jamal Shead, who leads Houston in minutes played, revealed postgame that he’s been bothered by a hyperextended knee. The star guard played through it but didn’t look himself. He committed a season-high six turnovers to go with 13 points and six assists.

Auburn Tigers: Tigers Bounce Back with Authority

Displaying no ill-effects from a poor showing in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, ninth-seeded Auburn — a 1-point favorite and -120 on the moneyline — rolled over eighth-seeded Iowa 83-75 in the first round. Buoyed by a boisterous pro-Auburn crowd at Neville Arena, the Tigers opened a 31-26 lead at halftime before extending their lead to 17 points midway through the second half.

Six players scored in double figures, led by Johni Broome’s 19 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks, as the Tigers shot a healthy 46% from the field. Wendell Green Jr. contributed 15 points and Allen Flanigan had 10 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Iowa, the Big Ten’s best offense according to college basketball team stats, was just 7-of-27 from 3-point range.

After struggling down the stretch — 3-7 over their last 10, including an SEC Tournament loss to Arkansas — this was a strong reminder of Auburn’s potential to be a tough out.

Handicapping The Game

Houston vs. Auburn will be one of the most discussed games of the second round. The Cougars, who were once the tournament’s betting favorite, now look vulnerable. Injuries to their star backcourt have raised doubts about their shelf life as a national title contender. Sasser, the school’s first Associated Press All-American since legendary center Hakeem Olajuwon in 1983-84, remains a major question mark.

Sasser sat out the AAC championship game because of the injury, and his absence loomed large in a 75-65 loss to Memphis. Following two days of rest, Sasser returned to practice on Wednesday and apparently felt good enough to suit up against Northern Kentucky. But after aggravating the injury, Sasser’s status for Saturday is suddenly up in the air. For what it’s worth, Sasser told reporters following the win that there’s “definitely” a chance for him to play against Auburn.

He’ll certainly be needed. Sasser gives Houston the best chance to win March Madness. If his injury becomes too painful to bear, the Cougars might not even advance past Auburn, let alone to the Final Four in their backyard. With Shead’s health also a concern, the Cougars may have to hobble their way through March.

Auburn is an unforgiving foe, ranking 28th in defensive efficiency, per KenPom, and should benefit from a heavy homecourt advantage despite being the lower seed. The Tigers are 14-2 this season at Neville Arena, which is located about two hours northwest of Auburn. If Sasser can’t go, the Tigers will be a major threat to knock off the region’s top seed. Houston vs. Auburn will be must-see TV. (Odds change frequently, be sure to check for the most up to date changes.)
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