Houston’s Final Four X-Factor: Marcus Sasser Must Elevate His Game Against Baylor’s Elite Guards

Houston’s Final Four X-Factor: Marcus Sasser Must Elevate His Game Against Baylor’s Elite Guards article feature image
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Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images. Pictured: Marcus Sasser.

  • When Houston's offense gets hot, it often comes from the shooting of Marcus Sasser.
  • If the Cougars want their magical March run to continue, Shane McNichol thinks Sasser will have to play a key role against Baylor on Saturday.

Kelvin Sampson has his Houston Cougars winning games with defense, rebounding and toughness.

Houston is the second ranked offensive rebounding team in the nation, according to KenPom, and holds opponents to some of the lowest shooting percentages in college basketball.

By defending, forcing turnovers, and hammering the glass, Houston creates additional possessions. With a few extra possessions in their pocket, the Cougars have raised their floor offensively.

Even on an off-shooting night, Houston can find other ways to manufacture enough points to win. This formula has been strong enough to lead the Cougars to the Final Four but likely would fall short against a team as strong as Baylor or Gonzaga.

Houston’s offensive ceiling can fluctuate higher, however, due to a few factors. Strong performances by lead guards Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau can certainly help but are expected.

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Marcus Sasser

When Houston’s offense really kicks into high gear, it’s often thanks to the shooting of sophomore Marcus Sasser. Of the Cougars’ perimeter players, he is the most dangerous as a pull-up shooter or in isolation. Sasser is a score-first guard with a streaky jump shot.

When Sasser has gone cold, he gets very cold and keeps shooting. In the Cougars’ three losses this season, Sasser is shooting just 23% from outside the arc, compared to 34% in Houston’s wins.

The Cougars can still thrive when Sasser goes cold, though. In Houston’s best offensive performance this season, when the Cougars scored 1.59 points per possession against South Florida, Sasser was 0-for-7 from behind the 3-point arc.

When Sasser isn’t making shots, Houston’s floor is still buoyed by offensive rebounds and other players creating offense. He went 0-for-5 from long range and scored just five points while Houston found a way to sneak past Rutgers in the Round of 32.

But when Sasser is hot, Houston’s offense has a newfound spark. He has made five or more 3-pointers in eight games in his career, peaking with a career-high eight earlier this season against Tulane. When Sasser is having that kind of night shooting the ball, everything else clicks into place for the Cougars.

Grimes, a more consistent and more reliable shooter, gets more space to operate. Jarreau’s drives into the paint find more open space and his court vision helps him find teammates that are more likely to be open when defenders are drawn towards Sasser. The Houston big men can expend more energy defensively instead of chasing Sasser’s misses on the offensive end.

Some of Sasser’s successes and failures are simply due to his streaky nature. Against a team like Baylor, however, his matchup will also be a key determining factor. Baylor’s three guards are all excellent defenders, but each brings a different skill to that end of the floor.

Davion Mitchell, Baylor’s best defender and possibly the best on-ball perimeter defender in college basketball, likely will spend most of his time on Jarreau. Grimes and Sasser score more points per game, but it’s Jarreau’s creation that stirs the drink that is the Houston offense.

This scenario would leave the taller MaCio Teague to follow Grimes and leave Jared Butler to guard Sasser.

Against a lot of teams, Sasser has the benefit of being matched with the third-best perimeter defender on the floor. That’s not the case here. Butler was an All-Big 12 Defensive Team selection this season. He’s quick enough to stay in front of Sasser and strong enough to pen him to the perimeter.

Even if my guesses for the matchups are wrong or Baylor continues to frequently switch assignments, Sasser could struggle. Teague’s length is not going to be easy for the 6-foot-1 Sasser to handle and Mitchell could absolutely swallow him up. When Baylor goes to the bench and brings in Adam Flagler, Sasser may find a better chance to score, but a merely marginal one.

If Sasser is forced to fade into the background and misses the shots he is able to find, Houston can try to cling close to Baylor with putbacks and transition scoring. That would only keep the Cougars competitive for so long before Baylor’s offense pulls away. Sasser’s contributions can go a long way in determining the final outcome and are worth monitoring for live bettors.

If he makes a few early 3-pointers, Sasser might be able to heat up and provide Houston the scoring punch needed to compete. But if he can’t even find chances to shoot against the smothering Baylor guards, it’s hard to see the Cougars putting up a fight late into the second half.

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