Houston vs. Auburn: 2023 NCAA Tournament Picks & Predictions (Saturday)

Mar 18, 2023 - 12:26 AM

Well, the first day of the 2023 NCAA Tournament was something, huh? The Midwest Region avoided most of the carnage Thursday — although anyone who has Houston going far in their brackets has some serious concern. Ultimately, the top two seeds, Houston and Texas, advanced, and we saw “upsets” with No. 9 Auburn and No. 10 Penn State winning in impressive fashion, although none was a total shocker. Here’s our odds, picks, and predictions for Saturday’s Round 2 NCAA Tournament matchup between Houston and Auburn.

Also, take a look at our other best bets for Saturday:

2023 NCAA Tournament Guide (March Madness)

Saturday’s Best 2023 NCAA Tournament Midwest Region Bets

Here are betting previews and picks for second-round matchups.

(1) Houston Cougars (-5.5) vs. (9) Auburn Tigers | Total 132

Yeah… I took Houston in several of my brackets to cut down the nets in their hometown. But the Cougars looked lost and disinterested during their 11-point win over Northern Kentucky. Star Marcus Sasser suffered a setback with his groin injury, and his status is up in the air. Oh, and Kelvin Sampson revealed after the game that third-leading scorer Jamal Shead is playing through a bad knee. It’s just one game, but I’m not as confident in the Cougs as I was going into the big dance.

I’m not afraid to say Houston was lucky to take down the 16th-seeded Norse. Northern Kentucky shot 5-of-33 from 3-point range Thursday night. If a few more of those shots fall, we could’ve been looking at a colossal upset. Auburn handled Iowa in a relatively stress-free game. The Tigers held Iowa to 7-of-27 from 3-point land and took care of the ball, which isn’t always the case for the Tigers.

I will be looking for spots to fade the Cougars going forward in this tournament, but I’m not sure Auburn is the ideal matchup. The Tigers play elite defense and rank top 50 in both 2-point and 3-point defense. However, Auburn is stylistically a terrible defensive rebounding team, ranking 318th in defensive rebounding rate. Even if Houston isn’t hitting their shots, the Cougs pride themselves on destroying the offensive glass.

Houston will also likely pack the paint and dare the Tigers to beat them from deep, where they shoot just 31.5%. The Tigers are a strong offensive-rebounding team, but the Cougars are solid on the defensive glass as well.

I also worry about Auburn’s guards against a Houston defense that turns opponents over on nearly 22% of defensive possessions. I’m expecting coach Kelvin Sampson’s bunch to come out much more inspired, which means they could pressure the ball a ton early on. And if Auburn falls into an early deficit, it’ll be really hard for them to climb out of a hole, given their shooting woes.

That all being said, something about laying five points with Houston makes me queasy. Instead, I’ll go with the under, as I’d expect Houston’s offense to struggle to assume Sasser doesn’t go.

The pick: Under 132 (-110)

More Round 2 Picks & Predictions

Check out all of our coverage for the 2023 NCAA Tournament >>

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