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Houston looks to make its third consecutive Sweet 16

The fifth-seeded Cougars open Sunday’s slate against No. 4 Illinois

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round - UAB vs Houston
Kelvin Sampson led Houston to the American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships this year.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Where to Watch

Location: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh

Tip Time: 12:10 p.m. EST

Television/Streaming: CBS/March Madness Live

DraftKings Betting Line: Houston -4.5, O/U 133

What the Cougars did to UAB on Friday night was impressive, a pure masterpiece.

In its 82-68 victory over the Blazers, the Cougars kept Jelly Walker to 1-for-10 shooting from 3-point land. Houston shot 53.3% from the field as a team. It set the tone for how the game would go.

Houston led from start to finish even though the Blazers cut the deficit down to eight. It would get no lower than that as Kyler Edwards’ 25 points and Fabian White’s 14 points were far too much for the Blazers.

“Defensively in the second half, I think we were outstanding in just about every facet,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “It’s a good win, you want to win your first one. The fact that is represented this teams 30th win, this team’s 30-5, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team that I’ve been as proud of as this bunch.”

The Cougars will have a tough test in the Round of 32 as they open Sunday’s action against No. 4 Illinois. The Illini snuck by Chattanooga on Friday evening, leading for only the final 25 seconds in the game. Chattanooga showed that if you play Illinois aggressive, especially down low with Kofi Cockburn, that you can beat this team. The Mocs just couldn’t make their shots late. Cockburn was sent to the free throw line 10 times and only made five of them. You’d have to think that would be an emphasis for KenPom’s 12th ranked defense.

Outside of Cockburn, Alfonso Plummer had two points through 27 minutes, and Trent Frazier only scored two points on the day. It’s been a rough stretch for the Illini at the most crucial time of the year, as it also lost in the Big Ten Tournament. It will be a battle down low, where the Cougars have a lot of versatility.

Prediction

Houston looked like men amongst boys against a very good UAB team on Friday while Illinois struggled. There aren’t any better coaches in the country than Kelvin Sampson and he’ll have his boys ready to swarm Cockburn on defense while his guards will do exactly what they did to Walker on defense on Friday. Shut them down. I predict that Houston wins this game by a score of 68-62.

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