NCAA March Madness: Houston vs. Northern Kentucky betting preview, odds and predictions


NCAA March Madness: Houston vs. Northern Kentucky betting preview, odds and predictions

In the 1 vs. 16 matchup in the Midwest region of the 2023 NCAA tournament, Houston faces Northern Kentucky with a spot in the Round of 32 on the line. All tournament long, VSiN will be providing you with March Madness betting oddsin-depth team analysis and expert college basketball picks. Make us your one-stop shop for all of your betting needs. 


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How to watch Houston vs. Northern Kentucky

When: Thursday, 9:20 p.m. ET

Where: Birmingham, Alabama

Watch: TNT

Odds for Houston vs. Northern Kentucky

Spread: Houston -19.5

Total: 121.5

(Odds accurate as of Sunday, March 12th at 11:00 p.m. ET)

Real-time betting splits at DraftKings Sportsbook

Midwest Region No. 1 Seed Houston

While you might be quick to write Houston off because of its conference, we’d suggest ignoring that and focusing on the facts. The Cougars are a top-10 team when it comes to both offensive and defensive efficiency, and they’re the only team in the nation that can say that — which is why they’re first in our VSiN Team Power Ratings. Houston is loaded in the talent department, with Marcus Sasser being one of the best guards in the country and Jarace Walker looking the part of a top-10 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Jamal Shead, J’Wan Roberts and Tramon Mark are also capable of having moments in March. However, Sasser did suffer a groin injury in the AAC Tournament semifinals. If he’s banged up or misses any time, Houston is going to have a hard time reaching its ceiling.

Midwest Region No. 16 Northern Kentucky

Northern Kentucky was only the fourth seed in the Horizon League Tournament, but the Norse ended up stunning everybody and making the tournament — the run included a win over the top-seeded Youngstown State Penguins. If Northern Kentucky is going to have any chance of continuing to surprise people, it’ll take a magnificent performance from guard Marques Warrick. The junior had 15 games with at least 20 points this season, and he even had one 45-point performance back in November. Outside of something crazy like that, it’s hard not to view this team as one of the worst in the tournament.

Houston vs. Northern Kentucky matchup analysis

The health of Houston’s star guard Marcus Sasser is one of the big storylines this week. The Final Four is in Houston, and this team has been a metrics darling all season long with a series of dominant performances in a pretty decent American Athletic Conference. Sasser missed the AAC Tournament final against Memphis and the Cougars lost for just the third time this season.

Sasser is said to be probable going into Thursday’s tip-off against Northern Kentucky, but the Cougars should be able to advance without him. Houston fits the profile of a team that can win it all. Ken Pomeroy has the Cougars with the nation’s 11th-best offense and fourth-best defense. They force a lot of turnovers and take good care of the basketball, though a lot of that responsibility belongs to Sasser, so his health is paramount.

You’ll be able to time this first-round game with a sundial. Houston ranks 343rd in adjusted tempo per Bart Torvik and Northern Kentucky is 359th. KenPom has the teams at 343 and 358 in tempo. This matchup is unlikely to have the excitement we’ve come to know and love from March Madness, but it does make for an interesting betting environment because this game could only be played to about 61 possessions and Houston is favored by almost 20 points.

What worries me the most here for NKU is that the Norse play a zone defense and zones are notorious for giving up offensive rebounds. Northern Kentucky ranked 333rd in offensive rebounding percentage against and Houston ranks fourth in offensive rebounding percentage. Even if the shots aren’t falling for Houston, they’re likely to get a lot of second-chance opportunities.

The shots may very well fall because NKU ranks 319th in the nation in 3P% defense. The Horizon League was actually a pretty good offensive conference, but Houston is a really good offensive team. If any team can cover 20 in a low-possession game, it might as well be the Cougars, but expect Sasser to be limited. It’s about the bigger picture for Kelvin Sampson’s team.

MORE: College basketball best bets from VSiN hosts and analysts

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