March Madness: Houston eyeing first title in home city as Jayhawks seek repeat

By Sports Desk March 14, 2023

There aren't many months on the US sporting calendar that capture the imagination quite like March.

Fans around the country and around the world are furiously filling in brackets as they undertake the futile task of trying to correctly predict every game of the NCAA Tournament.

Spoiler alert. None will succeed. All brackets will eventually be 'busted' as March Madness delivers the chaotic upsets that have come to define it.

There will be top seeds who fail to justify that status and suffer defeats to supposed inferior teams, although the cream consistently rises to the top.

Twelve of the past 15 National Champions have been one seeds, including each of the last five.

Ahead of the first four tipping off in Dayton on Tuesday, Stats Perform looks at three storylines surrounding one seeds looking to keep that streak alive.

Houston eyeing home victory

The Houston Cougars have never tasted glory in the NCAA Tournament, finishing as runners-up in 1983 and 1984, but they are many people's favourites to end that drought in a year that will see the Final Four held in Houston.

Despite losing the AAC Tournament title game to Memphis, the Cougars still earned a one seed as they seek a maiden National Championship.

Top of Stats Perform's TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster) rankings, which give Houston the highest chance (13.4 per cent) of winning the title, the big question surrounding the Cougars is the health of power forward Marcus Sasser.

Sasser missed the defeat to Memphis with a groin injury, and Houston will likely need him at full health if the Cougars are to go all the way. He has averaged 17.1 points per game this season and shot 38.3 per cent from the three-point line.

He suggested he likely will be ready for the tournament, saying he "played it safe" by not featuring against Memphis.

Houston shouldn't need Sasser to get past Northern Kentucky in their first-round matchup, but the Cougars can't afford for him to be on the shelf much longer if they are to realise their potential and finally end their wait for a title.

Controversy clouds top-ranked Alabama

The top overall seed belongs to the Alabama Crimson Tide, who will face either Texas A&M-Corpus Christi or Southeast Missouri State in the first round.

But much of the talk around Alabama does not concern their play on the court.

Alabama removed Darius Miles from the team in January after he was charged with capital murder following the shooting death of a 23-year-old woman near the campus.

Police are said to believe that Brandon Miller, the SEC Player of the Year and SEC Freshman of the Year, supplied the firearm to his former team-mate.

Miller has not been charged, nor is he considered a suspect, and according to the university, he has been cooperating with the police as a witness.

Alabama coach Nate Oats has been insistent Miller has done nothing wrong, and he remains on the court as the standout for a team looking to reach the Final Four for the first time.

He will carry much of the burden for Alabama having averaged 19.6 points and 8.3 rebounds and shot 40.1 per cent from beyond the arc.

After easing to an 82-63 win over Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament finale, Alabama look in excellent shape to justify their position as the number one seed in the entire tournament. 

But the further they progress and the larger the spotlight gets, the more questions they will face around Miller's presence and the lack of discipline he has faced after a tragedy that may overshadow their campaign.

Self set to return for Jayhawks repeat bid

The Kansas Jayhawks go into the tournament looking to do what no team has done since Florida in 2007 and claim back-to-back National Championships.

Entering the tournament as the one seed in the West Regional, Kansas' performance in a season that has seen them go 27-7 would appear to indicate they have a strong chance of repeating.

Yet the TRACR rankings give them just a 3.2 per cent of doing so, and history is firmly against them.

Since Florida made it two in a row in 2007, no defending champion has advanced past the Sweet 16, with only two even reaching that stage.

This year, the Jayhawks face a potential Sweet 16 matchup with UConn, a fourth seed with the third-best odds (6.9 per cent) to win it all, according to TRACR.

So, not a great draw then, and Kansas' preparations for the tournament have not exactly been ideal.

They lost the Big 12 Championship Game 76-56 to Texas, having played that tournament without head coach Bill Self after he was admitted to hospital with chest tightness and balance concerns.

With Self expected to return for the tournament and Kansas possessing the Big 12's top scorer in Jalen Wilson (20.1 points per game), there is reason for optimism this powerhouse can replicate the achievements of Billy Donovan's Gators 16 years ago.

Regardless of whether they succeed, the Jayhawks have already fared better than the team they defeated last year, North Carolina, who failed to make the tournament. They became the first preseason number one to miss out on the tournament since 1985.

This season has already seen unwanted history for the Tar Heels. The Jayhawks will look to end it by writing another celebratory chapter in the record books. 

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