Getting to know: Auburn basketball (NCAA Tournament)
Salt Lake City — A Sweet 16 berth and a trip to Kansas City is on the line when Kansas and Auburn square off tonight at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The Jayhawks, who are the fourth seed in the Midwest Region, can notch their fourth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 with a win. Auburn, meanwhile, would claim its fifth such appearance in program history and first since 2003.
Both teams are evenly match, as should be the case when the No. 4 seed and No. 5 seed meet in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers have won nine games in a row, which is tied for the eighth-longest streak of teams entering the second round. Kansas, meanwhile, is 9-3 since moving to a starting lineup that features four freshmen.
AU has won the only meeting with KU in program history, which took place in the NCAA Tournament in 1985.
Tipoff is slated for approximately 8:40 p.m.
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BREAKING DOWN AUBURN
No. 2 — G Bryce Brown | 6-3, 198, sr.
Brown is at the forefront of Auburn’s reliance on the long ball this season.
Brown set a school record for most 3-pointers in a single season with 124. Lance Weems connected on 108 3-pointers during the 1995-96 season. In addition, Brown is also fourth in SEC history with 365 career triples. Pat Bradley of Arkansas is third on that list with 366.
For the season, Brown is averaging 15.7 points per game on 42.6 percent shooting.
The senior was named MVP of the SEC Tournament after averaging 16.5 points on 18-of-43 (41.9 percent) shooting beyond the arc in the tournament. Brown was the only Tiger to score in double figures in all four games in Nashville.
No. 1 — G Jared Harper | 5-11, 175, jr.
The Tigers' point guard is seventh in the SEC with 15.3 points per game and third in the SEC (27th nationally) with 5.7 assists per game. He’s also playing 32.9 minutes per game, which is sixth in the SEC.
Harper has a team-best 24.7 usage rating, and has scored in double figures in 19 of his last 22 contests.
Earlier this year, the NCAA Twitter account released a story that featured the five fastest point guards in the country. That list included Harper, but it did not feature KU freshman point guard Devon Dotson.
No. 5 — F Chuma Okeke | 6-8, 230, so.
Okeke, who was previously AAU teammates with Dedric Lawson of Kansas, is averaging 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Last time out, Okeke scored 13 points and collected five rebounds. He has reached double figures in 18 of last 21 games. He has also led Auburn in rebounding 20 times this season, and will be involved in an intriguing battle with KU’s posts.
Okeke was named to the SEC All-Tournament team along with Brown and Harper.
No. 4 — G Malik Dunbar | 6-6, 230, sr.
In his last game, Dunbar scored just five points in the narrow win over New Mexico State.
Auburn is 11-3 when Dunbar scores in double figures in his career. He’s averaging 7.3 points per contest for the Tigers. He’s one of two seniors in the starting lineup, which also includes a pair of juniors.
After being one of the youngest teams in the NCAA last year with one senior, Auburn boasts 13 upperclassmen and has 4,182 career points returning for the 2018-19 season, which is the eighth-highest clip in the country.
ONE THING AUBURN DOES WELL
Nobody in the country forces more turnovers than the Tigers. Auburn’s turnover rate of 25.3 on the defensive end ranks first in all of college basketball.
ONE AREA AUBURN STRUGGLES
Tigers struggle on the glass, particularly on the defensive end. Opposing teams are posting a 33.1 offensive rebound rate against Auburn, as the DI average is 28.4.
MEET THE COACH
Auburn is coached by Bruce Pearl, who is 97-71 in his fifth season at Auburn and 559-216 in his 24th season overall.
After opening as a pick em, Auburn has been a 2-point favorite over the last day or so against Kansas. I’m sticking with my gut reaction on this one, I just don’t think this is a favorable matchup for KU. I do think it will be close for much of the night, but the Jayhawks will come up short in the end.
My prediction: Auburn 77, Kansas 74