Place: Reed Arena
Advanced Metrics via KenPom: Texas A&M has a 30% chance to win
Good Bull Hunting: Let’s start with something simple. Who are the key offensive and defensive contributors for Auburn?
College and Magnolia: Offensively, Auburn goes as guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown go. Jared Harper serves as the “Quarterback” of this team running the point and when he plays well, the Tigers usually come out on top. He’s averaging 15 points and 6.7 assists so far this year. Bryce Brown holds down the 2 spot and is the school’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made and leads the team in scoring at 15.8 points a game. Both guys have the ability to go for 30 if necessary to carry the team but overall, the Tigers are better when the scoring is more equally distributed. Auburn still looks to play fast but the tempo has slowed down this year with the return of Austin Wiley and the Tigers try to make sure and play through him. That’s still a work in progress.
Defensively, Brown is one of Auburn’s best on-ball defenders but it’s the interior of Auburn that makes the defense what it is this year. Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore are both averaging near 2 blocks a game. Chuma Okeke leads the team in steals. And Horace Spencer provides great energy off the bench to round out Auburn’s interior. What started out as a concern going into this season has been a bright spot for the most part. Auburn is 4th in the country averaging 6.1 blocks per game and 3rd in the country averaging 20.27 forced turnovers per game. If there’s one concern I have about Auburn defensively is that they have been susceptible to playing good defense for 20-25 seconds and then giving up a 3-pointer with 5 or less seconds on the shot clock.
GBH: The Tigers have absolutely rolled at home this season, but the results away from Auburn Arena have been problematic. What changes when you move away from the friendly confines, and are you concerned about the difference in your road/home splits?
C&M: I don’t know if it’s just the unfamiliarity of the arenas or what the deal is but it’s most definitely a concern going into SEC play. It is worth nothing that all 3 of Auburn’s losses are against teams currently in the Top 20. Auburn averages 91.2 points a game at Auburn Arena and just 74.3 points a game away from home. I was at both the UAB and N.C. State games, played away from Auburn Arena, and the team struggled to the tune of 4-22 from 3 against UAB and 5-25 against N.C. State. Auburn was fortunate to beat UAB but weren’t as fortunate against the Wolfpack. As for last Wednesday, the Rebels played with a chip on their shoulder, the way Auburn did last season. While Auburn made 14 3-pointers last Wednesday, they did it on 39 attempts and got very little contribution from their frontcourt.
In the N.C. State game and the Ole Miss game, I felt there was a lack of energy from the team. The energy this team gets when they’re at home is incredible and I think that’s another reason why Auburn plays so much better at home compared to being on the road. Bruce Pearl talks a lot about going from being the “hunter” last year to the “hunted” this year. Now teams see Auburn on the schedule and it’s a big game for them. If Auburn brings the energy they played with against Georgia to College Station, then I feel pretty good about Auburn’s chances, otherwise, it could be another tough road game for the Tigers.
GBH: You’ve got multiple shooters, multiple rim protectors, and a stable of guys that can create havoc on defense. Have you settled on a crunch time five? Who can we expect to see on the court coming down the stretch.
C&M: It honestly depends on the situation regarding the game’s score, who’s in foul trouble, etc. I feel confident that Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Samir Doughty, and Chuma Okeke will be out there and then either Austin Wiley/Anfernee McLemore. Another candidate for crunch time minutes would be Malik Dunbar who’s been very efficient in the minutes he’s gotten this year.
GBH: Overall, what do you think this team’s biggest weakness and strength are?
C&M: The biggest strength for me would have to be the guard play. You have a pretty good idea what you’re going to get from Harper and Brown on a nightly basis but on those nights when you don’t get that production, it usually means trouble for this team. Throw in Samir Doughty and Malik Dunbar that have played well at the 3 this year and you’ve got solid production across the board regarding guards. The ninth player in Bruce Pearl’s rotation is J’Von McCormick, who went to high school in Katy and played 2 years of JUCO ball in Baytown. He plays about 12 minutes a game, giving Harper a break at running the point. Auburn has had both of their primary point guards on the court together frequently and in those instances, McCormick runs the point while Harper plays off the ball.
One of the biggest weaknesses for me is free throw shooting. One of the reasons Auburn won the SEC last year was they shot free throws at an outstanding rate, about 78%. This year, Auburn is sitting at just 67.2% so in a close game, there’s a lot of concerns about that. In the game against Ole Miss, Auburn shot just 9-17 from the free throw line.
GBH: We’re feeling pretty good after our victory at Alabama, and a win over Auburn would complete the turnaround and set us up for six weeks of really interesting basketball. Help us out, here. What’s the path to victory for Texas A&M in this game?
C&M: It seems like somebody that you don’t expect tends to go off and have a big game against Auburn. For example, while Auburn held Ole Miss’s Breein Tyree to just 5 points, they allowed KJ Buffen averaging only 6 a game to score 16 last Wednesday night. And then in the Georgia game, Turtle Jackson, averaging about 4-5 a game scored 16 for Georgia. Look for Auburn to focus defensively on limiting T.J. Starks which would then create more opportunities for Savion Flagg and then I’ll go out on a complete limb and say it might be a big game for someone like Jay Jay Chandler, but it could any of A&M’s role players. If A&M can get their crowd into the game to rattle Auburn, and shoot well from 3-point range, there’s certainly a path for A&M to win this game.
GBH: Predictions for Wednesday’s game?
C&M: On paper, this is a game that Auburn should win but as we’ve documented very well, this team struggles on the road. With 3 of Auburn’s next 4 games on the road, they need to get a road win in order to prove to themselves and the fanbase that they can play well away from Auburn Arena. This game with A&M is also scary due to the fact that after this game, Auburn comes home and takes on Kentucky Saturday. I don’t expect this to be easy for Auburn but I’m going to pick the Tigers to win 74-68.
For those interested in how we sound in enemy territory, you can catch a mirror image of this article here.
FWIW, I had us losing by around the same margin. I hope I’m wrong.