The top-seeded Houston Cougars took on 16-seed Northern Kentucky in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. They were able to get the win, but that is far from the biggest takeaway from the game.
It was a far closer game than most anticipated. Houston went into halftime with just a three-point lead. While the Cougars were able to pull away from their overmatched opponent and win the game, they received some horrible news regarding star player Marcus Sasser.
Sasser entered the tournament with a lingering groin injury suffered in the AAC Conference Championship loss to Memphis. This put a huge question mark around a Houston, an issue so strong that many thought could prevent this team from making a deep run this year.
The senior guard said before the game that he “should be 100%” for Thursday’s game. He gave it a go, but he was clearly not himself and suffered a huge setback.
Sasser scored five points and recorded two rebounds in the first half. However, his lingering injury flare-up forced him to miss the second half of the game.
Marcus Sasser might not play this half. Tried to go in the first half after groin injury, scored five points. He wasn't an active warmup participant before coming out of halftime.
— Pat Forde (@ByPatForde) March 17, 2023
Despite the win, many around the college basketball world are extremely concerned that Sasser’s injury will lead to an earlier-than-expected exit in the NCAA Tournament.
Houston's second-round game looks much more even than it did five hours ago. Auburn playing with a home-crowd advantage, playing with a lot of freedom on the offensive end — and now Houston has Marcus Sasser's status in question.
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 17, 2023
No. 1 UH survives and advances 63-52 vs. No. 16 Northern Kentucky.
Marcus Sasser's health is a huge TBD moving forward.
Getting out of Birmingham with another win is all that matters right now for the Coogs, who were rarely themselves in the first round.
"NKU" chants continue.
— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) March 17, 2023
I don’t know if Houston can get to the second weekend without Marcus Sasser #MarchMadness
— Ben Ross (@BenRossTweets) March 17, 2023
The #1 Houston Cougars survive, but boy they did not make it easy.
The Coogs gave up 18 offensive rebounds and turned the ball over 17 times.
The Auburn Tigers await them in the Round of 32, potentially without Marcus Sasser. #GoCoogs | #FortheCity
— Chancellor Johnson (@ChancellorTV) March 17, 2023
Unfortunately for the Cougars, that is not the only injury that they will be dealing with in their Round of 32 matchup against Auburn. Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson detailed after the game that Junior guard Jamal Shead is also dealing with a knee injury.
After the game, Kelvin Sampson says Jamal Shead is hurting too with a bad knee. None of this is good for Houston.
— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) March 17, 2023
This could all spell complete disaster for Houston. What is even worse is that they will essentially be playing a road game against Auburn, with their matchup taking place in Birmingham, Alabama.
We are 40 minutes away from Houston playing a pseudo road game against Auburn in Birmingham to get to the Sweet 16.
This is March. https://t.co/b8jsU42iIk
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 17, 2023