Only one school came into the 2023 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament as a higher overall seed than Houston.
The top team in the Midwest region, Houston has been viewed as one of college basketball’s strongest teams after finishing the regular season with a 32-3 record, including 17-1 in the AAC. And though the game was at points closer than they would have hoped, the Cougars were still able to advance past their first-round clash against No. 16 Northern Kentucky in a 63-52 win.
But when the Cougars next take the court, they might be at a bit of a disadvantage. Beyond just the injury to star guard Marcus Sasser, Houston will come into its second-round game in a possible hostile environment against No. 9 Auburn when it takes the court at the Legacy Arena at BJCC in Birmingham, Ala., just 145 miles away from the Tigers.
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The tournament is typically set up in a way to try and provide home-court advantage for the top teams in each region. Why won’t that be the case when Houston plays Auburn? Here’s what you need to know.
Why Auburn has home-court advantage vs. No. 1 Houston
The second-round matchup undoubtedly is shaping up to be a tough draw for Houston. The Cougars will have to contend with not only a standout Auburn squad, but a raucous environment that will undoubtedly favor the No. 9 seed.
But while the draw certainly doesn’t favor the higher-seeded team, that is not the concern of the NCAA committee.
In a statement to the Houston Chronicle’s Joseph Duarte, the NCAA selection committee said it tries to make sure the top four seeds don’t have a home-court disadvantage in the first round, but that it doesn’t look at what could happen later.
“When assigning first- and second-round sites for all 16 lines, the committee assigns teams to their closest available site, and then uses principles tied to conference affiliation to ensure that rematches of regular-season games do not occur prior to when they are permitted,” the committee said in a statement. “The committee does not adjust from its bracketing principles for the purpose of avoiding a potential homecourt disadvantage beyond the first round.”
Statement from NCAA selection committee regarding ninth-seeded Auburn playing close to home in second round in Saturday’s game against No. 1 Houston pic.twitter.com/vqsw3sPPts
— Joseph Duarte (@Joseph_Duarte) March 17, 2023
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In other words, the committee can’t be concerned by a hypothetical second-round matchup when it has to focus on making sure it considers all the necessary factors in a 68-team field.
When the draw initially was revealed, Houston coach Kelvin Sampson was clearly unhappy by the situation.
“So Auburn gets to play in Birmingham?” Sampson said on Sunday, per the Montgomery Advertiser. “Maybe we should’ve been a 9-seed.”
Since Auburn and Houston officially made the matchup official, Sampson has embraced that there is nothing more that can be done, and instead has pivoted to getting his team focused on playing in the hostile conditions.
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“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Sampson said, per the Montgomery Advertiser.
“Auburn is really good,” he added. “I think anybody that makes the NCAA Tournament would like to be in their situation right now, but you know, good for them. That’s a good break, but we’ve got a lot more pressing matters to worry about than that. We have to go see how many healthy bodies we have right now.”
His players have already embraced the road matchup. The Cougars have gone 11-0 on the road this season and 5-1 in neutral site contests.
“I know it’s going to be a hostile atmosphere, but it’s nothing we haven’t played in before this year,” redshirt freshman Emanuel Sharp said, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “I know Auburn is a good team, but we’re going to battle.”
One factor in Houston’s favor in terms of the crowd — Alabama plays Maryland in the other game in Birmingham. The Alabama fans who take in both games will surely be pulling for Houston rather than archrival Auburn.