Houston Cougars vs. Longwood Lancers Pick & Prediction MARCH 22nd 2024

MEMPHIS — Houston players and coaches are saying all the right things about playing Longwood on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament’s South Region.

“We’ve seen in the past a 16 seed beat a 1 seed,” guard L.J. Cryer said. “You can’t really look at the number. At the end of the day, everyone is equal.”

But not everything appears to be equal as the top-seeded Cougars (30-4) take on 16th-seeded Longwood (21-13). And Houston’s last game might make things even tougher for the Lancers in their second NCAA appearance.

The second-ranked Cougars absorbed a 69-41 beatdown Saturday night in Kansas City, Mo., against No. 7 Iowa State in the Big 12 Conference tournament title game. Houston hit only 15 of 56 shots from the field, including 4 of 22 from the 3-point arc, and was outscored 39-18 in the second half in its most lopsided loss of the season.

“Forty minutes is not going to define three months,” said Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson of the game’s outcome.

But what might define Houston’s success in the most meaningful games of its season might be health. The team’s depth took hits with season-ending injuries to key reserves like Terrance Arceneaux (Achilles), Ramon Walker Jr. (knee) and Joseph Tugler (foot).

A bigger concern is the status of leading rebounder J’Wan Roberts, who averages 9.4 points and 6.8 boards. He was held out of the second half against Iowa State after suffering a bruised right shin. His status for Friday night is unclear.

With or without Roberts, the Cougars figure to lean on Cryer (15.3 ppg), first team All-American Jamal Shead (13.1 ppg, 6.2 assists) and Emanuel Sharp (12.2 ppg) for their offense. Defensively, Houston ranks first in Division I, allowing just 57 points per game.

While the Cougars have aspirations of winning their first national championship, Longwood is aiming to become the third No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed. UMBC stunned Virginia in 2018 and Fairleigh Dickinson shocked Purdue last year.

Seeded fifth in the Big South Conference tournament, the Lancers emerged with the title after beating three higher seeds, including No. 1 High Point in the semifinals and No. 2 UNC Asheville in the finals, an 85-59 rout on March 10.

Five players reached double figures in the final, led by Michael Christmas with 18 points, and the Lancers converted 59.6 percent of their field goal attempts. It added up to their most lopsided victory against a conference foe this season. They went just 6-10 in the Big South, making their tournament win all the more remarkable.

“This team is all about character and chemistry,” coach Griff Aldrich said. “Like a lot of teams, we have had ups and downs, but to be here is a true testament to the character and resilience of the men who are representing us.”

Guard Walyn Napper leads Longwood in scoring at 14.6 ppg and in assists at 4.6, while Christmas chips in 11.5 ppg and a team-high 6.2 rebounds. McNeese State transfer Johnathan Massie adds 11.4 ppg.

The winner meets No. 8 seed Nebraska or No. 9 seed Texas A&M in a second-round matchup Sunday.

–By Bucky Dent, Field Level Media

Docsports, The most trusted name in sports handicapping