Texas A&M men’s basketball will face its toughest test of the season as it heads to Auburn to take on the #1 ranked Tigers at 11:00 AM on Saturday. Nevermind the fact that the Aggies are currently in the midst of a seven-game losing streak after starting SEC plan 4-0. You can also disregard the fact that Auburn will be looking for blood after being upset in overtime by Arkansas on Tuesday night, meaning that the Tigers will most likely lose their #1 ranking on Monday when the new polls are posted. Pay no attention to the fact that an already raucous Auburn Arena will be ROCKING with ESPN’s College Gameday crew in the house for a nationally televised game on ESPN.
Why? Why does none of that matter? Because Auburn is GOOD. They’ve got size, they’re athletic as hell, they play great defense, they score, they don’t turn the ball over. Bruce Pearl has been building this program for seven seasons, and in his eighth it appears to have reached its final form. The Tigers are 16th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency. They force their opponents into tough shots and then reject those shots at a frequence that leads the nation. On the offensive side, the Tigers are just outside the top 10% in turning the ball over, while they are in the top 20% of teams in forcing turnovers defensively.
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Auburn is 22-2 on the season and 10-1 in SEC play. Both losses to UConn (115-109) and Arkansas (80-76) have come in overtime. Their average margin of victory in ten conference wins is 11.5 points. Freshman Jabari Smith is the premier player for the Tigers and a contender for national player of the year. The 6’10” forward averages 15.5 points per game, shoots better than 40% from beyond the arc on 122 attempts, is in the top 500 players nationally in both steal rate and block rate, and hits 81% of his free throws. He also pulls down just shy of 7 boards per game for good measure. Enjoy getting to watch a special talent because this is the only time the Aggies face the Tigers in the regular season and Smith will almost certainly be playing in the NBA next year.
If all looks lost for the Aggies, where can one find a glimmer of hope? Auburn hasn’t looked its best lately, especially against “lesser” competition. The Tigers pulled out a one point victory at Missouri and a two point victory at Georgia before falling to Arkansas this week. Maybe the Tigers get bored and play with their food a bit, or maybe that’s symptomatic of a top team getting everyone’s best shot. The formula for beating Auburn appears to be a classic one - get a hot shooting night, force turnovers and grind the game out defensively, crash the boards, and hope that one of the best teams in the country goes cold from the floor and the free throw line.
If this doesn’t go well for the Aggies, pray for Josh Chambers, A&M’s Director of Creative and social media manager. Auburn fans have taken to replying with “memes” on the opposing team’s postgame social media post. The quotations around the aforementioned memes are necessary because they are mostly terrible and have continued to prove Auburn as one of the most comedically challenged fanbases in the country.