Miami beats No. 1 seed Houston; all four top NCAA seeds out

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nijel Pack and Miami hit shots from near and far against the stingiest defense in the country to beat Houston 89-75 on Friday night in the Sweet 16, leaving the NCAA Tournament without a single No. 1 seed among its final eight teams for the first time since seeding began in 1979.

Miami (28-7), only the fifth team this season to score at least 70 points against Houston (33-4), will play second-seeded Texas or No. 3 seed Xavier in the Midwest Region final for the chance to go to the Final Four.

About 30 minutes before Houston’s loss, top overall seed Alabama fell to San Diego State in Louisville, Kentucky. Fellow No. 1 seeds Purdue and Kansas lost during the tournament’s first weekend.

The fifth-seeded Hurricanes reached a regional final for the second straight year just a few hours after Miami’s ninth-seeded women’s team hung on to beat Villanova and advance to the Elite Eight for the first time. Miami and UConn are the only schools with teams remaining in both tournaments.

This is the first time in three years Houston didn’t make it to the Elite Eight.

The Cougars simply couldn’t stop a multifaceted Miami offense led by Pack’s 3-point shooting. He had season highs of seven 3-pointers on 10 attempts and 26 points.

Isaiah Wong’s mid-range game helped get the ‘Canes out to a fast start, and he finished with 20 points. Jordan Miller hurt the Cougars with his penetration and had 13 points, and Norchad Omier was his usual rugged self under the basket while recording his 16th double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

It resulted in a heartbreaking end for a Cougars team that was in the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight time, had won 15 of its last 16 games and had the season-long goal of playing in next week’s Final Four in its home city.

Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, much to his players’ delight, busted out dance moves in the locker room befitting a 73-year-old man harkening to the disco era. Then Wooga Poplar and Joseph Bensley joined him up front for an impromptu line dance.

Larrañaga will seek his first Final Four with Miami and second overall – he took George Mason there as an 11 seed in 2006.

Miami used a 16-5 run spanning the halves to go up by double digits, with Omier’s three-point play and Jordan Miller’s short bank-in with the left hand making it 47-36 and forcing Houston coach Kelvin Sampson to call timeout less than two minutes into the second half.

Houston battled back to make it a two-point game, but then Pack made three 3s and Miller and Wooga Poplar hit one each to fuel a 16-2 run that put the Canes ahead 70-53. The lead grew to as much as 17 points, and Houston never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.

There was no denying it was Miami’s night after Houston made a mini run with under five minutes to play. With the shot clock running down, Omier was forced to put up a jumper just inside the free-throw line. It bounced off the front of the rim, then the backboard, then the front of the rim again before dropping through. A minute later, Houston’s Jarace Walker missed from point-blank range.

Walker led the Cougars with 16 points. Jamal Shead added 15 and All-American Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark had 14 apiece for the Cougars, who shot just 37% overall and 29% from distance.

Houston – which came into the game as a 7.5-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook – found itself behind at half for the second straight game after the Hurricanes played their sharpest half of the tournament.

Miami turned the ball over just once the first 20 minutes, converted Miami’s six turnovers into 15 points and shot 6 of 14 from distance against the second-best 3-point defense in the country.

Pack made four of them, and all were timely. His first three gave Miami leads and his fourth broke a 31-all tie.

Houston-Miami matchup a battle for respect

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Top-seeded Houston is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, but the Cougars don’t feel they receive the proper respect.

Heading into the second weekend of the tournament, that feeling lingers despite the Cougars being just one victory away from their third straight Elite Eight appearance.

“A lot of people were pushing for us to lose,” Houston guard Tramon Mark said. “They didn’t believe we were a real 1 seed because of the conference (American Athletic) we play in. But I think we’re one of the best teams in the country still, and we proved it.”

The Cougars (33-3) look to take the next step when they battle fifth-seeded Miami (27-7) on Friday night in Midwest Region play in Kansas City, Mo.

Houston spent the entire season near the top of the national rankings and surely isn’t a surprise Sweet 16 participant.

“I put ourselves in a whole different category,” forward J’Wan Roberts said. “I don’t compare us to other teams. We just stick to what we do, and it shows. Other No. 1 teams got beat, but we didn’t.”

The Cougars and Alabama are the No. 1 seeds still playing. Purdue lost in the opening round and Kansas fell in the second.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson tries to simplify the approach during March Madness.

“We’ve been here many times in the final 16,” Sampson said. “The next 40 minutes are going to be big. We’ve got to find a way to get the next 40 minutes, and then we’ll move on from there. If not, it’s over.”

Star guard Marcus Sasser (groin) is still gimpy despite scoring 22 points in Saturday’s 81-64 win over Auburn. On Thursday, Sasser proclaimed he will be “around 90 percent” for the game. Teammate Jamal Shead (knee) said he is 100 percent recovered.

Mark scored a career-high 26 points against Auburn.

The Hurricanes are in the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. Last season, they reached the Elite Eight before being routed 76-50 by eventual national champion Kansas.

Star guard Isaiah Wong said it is a great era for the Hurricanes, who are just two victories away from matching the school record.

“It’s just an honor being part of this program, with the history we have,” Wong said. “We have a great team this year and last year too, and I feel like it’s great to see how we came up.

“My first year we wasn’t as good, but for the last two years, we’re going to the Sweet 16, and last year the Elite Eight.”

Still, guard Jordan Miller said that Miami also doesn’t receive the level of respect it should.

“I wouldn’t say underappreciated, but at the end of the day, all we can do is just come out and win basketball games,” Miller said. “I feel like winning a game in itself is a way to get recognition. We’re going to the Sweet 16. That’s a lot of recognition. We don’t necessarily care about what the media says.”

Wong averages a team-best 16.1 points and Miller is right behind at 15.1 Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier both average 13.4 points with the latter collecting a team-leading 10.1 rebounds per game.

Omier grabbed 17 rebounds in Sunday’s 85-69 victory over Indiana. That was a program record for boards in an NCAA Tournament game, surpassing the 14 he collected two nights earlier in a 63-56 victory over Drake.

“If I’m being honest, I really don’t know,” Omier said of his success. “I just like playing with my teammates. They always motivate me to go do what I love to do, and I love rebounding.”

Wong scored 27 points against Indiana.

Miami guard Wooga Poplar, who injured his back against Indiana, has yet to be cleared but will be in the starting lineup if he can play.

Houston holds a 9-5 series edge over Miami but the schools haven’t met in 52 years.

The winner faces either second-seeded Texas or third-seeded Xavier in Sunday’s regional final.

Sasser, Houston moving on at March Madness after beating Auburn

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – When Marcus Sasser felt the occasional twinge in his groin, he simply blocked it out. With so much on the line, he was determined to stay on the court for top-seeded Houston.

Now, he’s got a few more days to recuperate before the Sweet 16.

Tramon Mark scored a career-best 26 points and Sasser added 22 – including five 3-pointers – as the Cougars stifled local favorite Auburn in the second half for an 81-64 victory at the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.

The Cougars (33-3) wiped out a 10-point halftime deficit, returning after the break with a chip on their shoulders.

“We came out on fire,” Mark said. “Everything was clicking for us in the second half.”

Essentially shutting down the lane, Houston played with the desperation of a national championship contender that wasn’t ready to suffer the same fate as Purdue and Kansas – No. 1s that already were sent home.

Houston advanced to face either No. 4 Indiana or No. 5 Miami, which play Sunday, at the Sweet 16 in Kansas City, Missouri.

All eyes were on Sasser at the start of the game as he continued to deal with a groin injury that forced him to sit out the second half of Houston’s NCAA opener. But the All-American was determined to go all the way in this one.

The only thing that sent him to the bench was foul trouble, not the groin.

“I probably felt it a couple of times,” said Sasser, who played nearly 31 minutes. “But it was pain I could go through and keep pushing.”

Now, Houston doesn’t play again until Friday. More time for Sasser to feel even better.

“I don’t know about eliminating it,” he said. “But I feel like it will get way better.”

The ninth-seeded Tigers (21-13) were doomed by a stretch of more than 10 1/2 minutes without a field goal and finished just 4 of 24 from the field in the second half.

Auburn did draw plenty of fouls, only to struggle mightily at the line with a 19-of-36 showing. Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome led the Tigers with 14 points apiece.

“I kind of wish it were a 20-minute game instead of a 40-minute game,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “They came out and guarded us much harder, much better. And we didn’t respond to it.”

When Sasser swished a 3-pointer to push Houston back ahead, 46-45, he let out an emphatic scream on his way back down the court. He finished 5 of 9 beyond the arc.

Fouls were his only real issue. The All-American guard and his running mate, point guard Jamal Shead, were both forced to the bench with four fouls apiece with the game still in doubt.

But Mark kept the Cougars right on rolling offensively, and the the big guys simply refused to let Auburn back in the game.

Houston had 12 blocks, half of them swatted away by Jarace Walker, with five more shots turned away by J’Wan Roberts.

“I think the biggest adjustment was in our attitude,” coach Kelvin Sampson said. “I was almost glad it was Auburn’s ball first (in the second half), because I thought we needed to set the tone with a stop.”

It wound up lasting an entire half.

Houston scored the last nine points to blow it open at the end, with Sasser delivering one more 3-pointer that sent the Auburn fans – and there were plenty of them – heading for the exits.

It was quite a change from the first half.

Auburn closed on a 17-4 run while Houston missed six of its last eight shots, its only baskets coming on a pair of layups.


Leading up to the game, the Cougars shrugged off being a No. 1 seed that was forced to play what felt like a road game in the second round.

But once they were victorious, it was clear they took pleasure from silencing the large Auburn contingent at Legacy Arena – only about a two-hour drive from the Tigers’ campus in east Alabama..

“It’s crazy that we had to play Auburn in Birmingham,” backup guard Emanuel Sharp said to a group of teammates in the locker room.

“Road warriors!” one of them shouted back.

Houston improved to 17-1 in road and neutral-site games this season.


Auburn: The Tigers wrapped up an inconsistent season in appropriate fashion. They won only five of their last 15 games and didn’t put together back-to-back victories after Jan. 21.

Houston: Mark’s performance – the sophomore guard was averaging 9.6 points per game – shows the Cougars are far more than a one-man team. Either Indiana or Miami will have another offensive threat to worry about in the next round.


The Cougars are heading to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the last five years under Kelvin Sampson. But their eyes are really on the Final Four, which is right in their own backyard at NRG Stadium in Houston.

The program has yet to win a national title, despite six appearances in the Final Four.

Sasser hurt anew as top seed Houston beats Northern Kentucky

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With All-American Marcus Sasser watching from the bench, top-seeded Houston shook off Northern Kentucky for a 63-52 victory to open the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.

Chants of “NKU!” and “Overrated!” filled Legacy Arena as the 16th-seeded Norse trailed by only three at halftime and made it 36-all with under 16 minutes to go against the Cougars (32-3).

But Houston pulled away behind 16 points from Jarace Walker, advancing to face ninth-seeded Auburn on Saturday.

“I don’t coach Northern Kentucky, but I was proud of their team tonight,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “They fought. Their kids are tough. They’re smart.”

Now, all eyes turn to Sasser, Houston’s top scorer and its first member of The Associated Press All-America first team since 1984.

After going down last weekend with a groin injury in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, Sasser was a game-time decision for the start of the NCAA Midwest Region.

He got the start and looked just fine when he knocked down an early 3-pointer. But Sasser didn’t do much else, finishing with five points on 2-of-5 shooting in just under 14 minutes of playing time.

When the second half began, Sasser wasn’t on the court. The school announced he had aggravated his groin problem, forcing him to watch the rest of the game from the bench.

“He said it felt funny,” Sampson said. “So he shut it down, which is the right thing to do.”

Sampson also revealed that guard Jamal Shead is bothered by a sore knee, thought he managed to play more than 36 minutes. Shead chipped in with 13 points and six assists.

“We’ve got to see how many healthy bodies we have right now,” Sampson said. “That’s probably our most important thing.”

The Cougars got by without Sasser on this night.

The Norse’s upset bid went down in a hail of clankers, the Horizon League champions shooting just 27.5% from the field (19 of 69) – including a horrendous 5 of 34 from 3-point range – to ruin any chance of becoming the next UMBC.

The Retrievers remain the only 16th seed in NCAA history to knock off a No. 1 seed, shocking Virginia in 2018.

“I’m unbelievably proud of our team, the fight that we showed,” coach Darrin Horn said. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we outplayed Houston tonight. We just didn’t make enough shots.”

Sam Vinson led the Norse (22-13) with 15 points, though he made just 1 of 8 from beyond the arc.

“It was frustrating a little bit, but we don’t think about that during the game,” Vinson said. “The coaches keep saying, ‘Shoot the ball, shoot the ball.’”

The Cougars avoided UMBC’s fate but things figure to get much tougher in the next one, especially if Sasser can’t go.

Auburn knocked off No. 8 seed Iowa 83-75 and will have another de facto home game in the second round, playing just a two-hour drive from its campus.

“Good for them,” Sampson said. “It’s a great break.”

The Cougars struggled offensively against Northern Kentucky’s matchup zone, which was unlike any defense they had seen this season. Houston led just 30-27 at halftime and finished well under its 75-point average coming into the game.

Sampson and his players also conceded to a lack of toughness.

“They were more aggressive,” said J’Wan Roberts, who had 11 points and 12 rebounds. “It felt like they wanted it more. We’ve got to learn from that and get better.”


Northern Kentucky: The Norse have yet to win three NCAA Tournament appearances, losing as a 14th, 15th and now 16th seed.

Houston: The Cougars hardly looked like a national championship contender, and Sasser’s health makes a title run look even more tenuous.


The Cougars will be playing Auburn for the first time since Dec. 8, 1982, when Houston’s “Phi Slama Jama” powerhouse featuring Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler prevailed 77-65 against the Charles Barkley-led Tigers. Overall, the teams have met just seven times, with the Cougars winning six. Auburn’s lone victory in the series came in 1962.

Edey, Jackson-Davis, Wilson headline AP All-America Team

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Purdue’s Zach Edey and Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis gave the Big Ten Conference a third straight year with multiple first-team Associated Press All-America picks, while Kansas had a second straight first-teamer in Jalen Wilson.

The 7-foot-4, 305-pound Edey appeared on all 58 ballots as a first-team selection from AP Top 25 voters as the lone unanimous pick.

The selections of the Boilermakers’ Edey and the Hoosiers’ Jackson-Davis came a year after the Big Ten had three first-team picks. And it gave the league seven through the last three seasons; no other league has more than three.

The Big Ten has had at least one first-teamer for five straight years and eight of the last nine.

Houston’s Marcus Sasser and Alabama’s Brandon Miller joined Edey and Wilson on the first team in representing each of the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 seeds.

Edey has commanded the national spotlight all year. The Big Ten player of the year ranks sixth nationally in scoring (22.3), second in rebounding (12.8) and first in double-doubles (26).

“Everybody goes: ‘You go to him so much,’” Purdue coach Matt Painter said after the Big Ten Tournament title win against Penn State. “If they call it by the rules, they’re fouling him on every possession. So why shouldn’t we get it to him and just try to get in that bonus early and steal points?

“Obviously he can make tough post-ups and he can get at the rim, and he gets offensive rebounds when you take him away.”

Jackson-Davis, a 6-9 fourth-year forward, is Indiana’s first first-team selection since Victor Oladipo in 2013. He’s averaging 20.8 points and 10.9 rebounds while taking a leap with his passing (4.1 assists, up from 1.9 last year).

“I probably have pushed him harder than any player on this team and I know there’s been days that he’s walked out of here thinking that, ‘Hey, is this guy really in my corner, based on how he’s pushing me?’” coach Mike Woodson said. “But at the end of the day, he’s gotten better as a player.

“We have benefited from it, you know, with our ballclub, in terms of how we played as a team. And he’s been the driving force behind it.”

Wilson, a 6-8 fourth-year forward, was a returning complementary starter from last year’s NCAA title run. He thrived in an expanded role, becoming Big 12 player of the year and nearly doubling his scoring average (20.1, up from 11.1) to go with 8.4 rebounds.

It marked the fourth time in seven seasons that the Jayhawks had a first-team pick going back to national player of the year Frank Mason III in 2017.

“He’s an elite competitor,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said after a Big 12 Tournament loss to the Jayhawks. “He gets to the glass. He makes cuts. He makes it hard. He does so many things.”

Sasser, a 6-2 senior, was a starter on the Cougars’ Final Four team two years ago and is the star of another title threat this year. He’s averaging 17.1 points as the program’s first first-team selection since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984 during the “Phi Slama Jama” era.

Miller, a 6-9 freshman, was a McDonald’s All-American who became an immediate star on the way to being named the Southeastern Conference player of the year. He’s averaging 19.6 points and 8.3 rebounds for the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.

Miller has been involved in a murder case that has overshadowed the Crimson Tide’s successful run, leading to capital murder charges against former Alabama player Darius Miles and another man for the January shooting death of 23-year-old Jamea Harris. A police investigator testified last month that Miles texted Miller to bring him his gun that night, though authorities haven’t charged Miller with any crime.


Pac-12 player of the year Jaime Jaquez Jr. of UCLA was the leading vote-getter on the second team that included Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, last season’s AP national player of the year.

Gonzaga’s Drew Timme was a second-team selection for the third straight year, while Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis and Penn State’s Jalen Pickett rounded out the second quintet.


Kansas State’s surge led to the Wildcats earning third-team selections in Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson, their first AP All-Americans since Jacob Pullen in 2011.

Big East player of the year Tyler Kolek of Marquette, Iowa’s Kris Murray and North Carolina’s Armando Bacot rounded out the third team.


National scoring leader Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy, who averaged 28.2 points and fell three points shy of tying “Pistol” Pete Maravich’s all-time career scoring record, was the leading vote-getter among players who didn’t make the three All-America teams.

Players earned honorable-mention status if they appeared on multiple voters’ ballots. This year’s list includes Memphis’ Kendric Davis, Xavier’s Souley Boum and Miami’s Isaiah Wong.

Alabama, Houston top final AP Top 25 ahead of March Madness

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The overall No. 1 seed for March Madness is No. 1 in the final AP Top 25, too.

Alabama, fresh off an SEC Tournament title to go with its regular-season crown, ascended to the top spot Monday, earning 48 of 61 first-place votes to jump Houston, which lost in the American Athletic Conference final without star guard Marcus Sasser. Alabama also spent a week at No. 1 last month.

“We set goals over the summer: regular season, (league) tournament, obviously a national championship,” Crimson Tide guard Jahvon Quinerly said. “I’m going to make sure our guys are ready to go no matter who we match up with.”

That will be Texas A&M-Corpus Christi or Southeast Missouri State, who meet in a First Four game Tuesday night. The winner will play the Crimson Tide on Thursday in Birmingham, an hour down the road from their Tuscaloosa campus.

The top seed in the South Region, Alabama would face West Virginia or Maryland for a spot in the Sweet 16 with a win.

And how sweet that would be for a team that’s gone through the ringer: former teammate Darius Miles and another man have been indicted on capital murder charges for a January shooting, an investigator has testified star freshman Brandon Miller was asked by Miles to bring the gun that night and police have also said Jaden Bradley was at the scene.

“To beat the teams we had to beat to get here was not easy,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said last week. “So proud of the guys, proud of their effort, proud they were able to get really focused. Got a lot of mental toughness.”

Houston still received nine first-place votes and was No. 2 after losing to Memphis in the final of the AAC tourney, where Sasser hurt his groin in the semifinal round. He did not play in the championship and his status will be watched closely leading up to the Cougars’ NCAA opener against Northern Kentucky.

Purdue, seeded first in the East Region, earned three first-place votes and was third in the AP poll after the regular-season Big Ten champion won its conference tournament, too. Kansas, which expects to have Bill Self back for the NCAA tourney after a medical scare, was fourth after receiving the No. 1 seed in the West.

Texas routed the Jayhawks in the finals of the Big 12 Tournament and rounded out the top five.

Marquette remained at No. 6 after its Big East tourney title. UCLA earned one first-place vote and was seventh after losing in the Pac-12 Tournament final to Arizona, which was No. 8. Gonzaga and UConn rounded out the top 10.

“We have a special team. We’re not going to do what our past teams have done, which was to maybe get caught up in the wallow of losing,” said Huskies coach Dan Hurley, whose team fell to the Golden Eagles in the Big East tourney semifinals. “We’re going to get our minds right very quickly and get ready to make a run next week.”


Duke made the biggest jump in the final poll after beating Virginia for the ACC Tournament title, climbing nine spots to No. 12 – the highest the Blue Devils have been since the third week of the season. First-year coach Jon Scheyer has them seeded fifth in the East in the NCAA Tournament.

UCLA, seeded second in the West, fell five spots to No. 7 in the final poll.


Memphis was hardly receiving votes last week, but rolling to the AAC tourney title put Penny Hardaway’s crew into the poll for the first time this season at No. 24. Florida Atlantic, the Conference USA regular-season and tourney champ, returned at No. 25 after spending the first four weeks in the poll in school history in January and February.

The Tigers and Owls made the AP poll at the expense of Creighton, which was routed by Xavier in the Big East semifinals, and Kentucky, which fell to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament quarterfinal round.


Widely considered the toughest league in the nation, the Big 12 had two teams in the top five and five in the Top 25. The league has seven schools heading to the NCAA Tournament after Oklahoma State was left on the bubble.

The SEC, which tied the Big Ten for the most NCAA bids with eight, had four teams in the final Top 25. The Big East and ACC had three apiece, though the Big East had two in the top 10 and the leading ACC team was Duke at No. 12.