This could’ve been the Sweet 16 matchup last year and apparently the NCAA committee really wanted to see these teams play as it set this one for the Round of 32, though Auburn almost blew it again. The Tigers, fresh off their almost collapse against NMSU, are -2 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
Auburn is on a nice nine-Game winning streak, but it hasn’t been pretty and that was seen in the last Game. After leading almost the entire way against New Mexico State, it fell apart late and probably should’ve lost. Either way, the Tigers made it and face a Kansas team that had zero problems in the first round, disposing Northeastern by 34 points. Funny enough, Kansas barely beat NMSU earlier in the season, though was never ahead by double digits in that Game.
There aren’t a ton of comparisons for Auburn in the Big 12, but Oklahoma State shoots the most threes in the Conference and Kansas swept them. The Jayhawks also took down Wofford by 25 points, though that Game was close until Wofford’s offense went cold. since Auburn loves to chuck it up from deep, three-point defense is the biggest key for Kansas, and it ranked below average in that category in Conference play. Still, the Jayhawks have the 13th-most efficient defense in the country so that has to mean something.
While Auburn has its shooters, the most important player in this Game is Dedric LAwson. If Kansas doesn’t get anything from him, it almost has no chance. He averages 19.3 points and 10.3 boards per Game and if he can reach those numbers, the Jayhawks will be in a good spot. Auburn has the bodies to defend him in Chuma Okeke, Horace Spencer, Danjel Purifoy and Anfernee McLemore, but its overall defensive numbers aren’t good. In fact, the Tigers ranked last in the SEC in terms of two-point field goal percentage allowed. They have the size to deal with LAwson, but it’s a matter of not getting into foul trouble, bodying up and getting rebounds. Kansas will also likely play big with David McCorMACk and Mitch Lightfoot, which would mean more Okeke on LAwson. The Jayhawks will still need a couple other guys to step up, whether that’s point guard Devon Dotson, or the mostly inconsistent underclassmen Quentin Grimes, Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.
Auburn has the bodies down low, but most of its offense usually runs through the guards Bryce Brown (15.7 ppg) and Jared Harper (15.3 ppg). Of course, those two are the leaders in chucking up threes and when the shots don’t fall, that’s when the Tigers have trouble. The biggest help in recent Games is that J’Von McCormick has gotten a little more run with Harper in foul trouble and since he prefers driving more than shooting from deep, that’s helped the offense a little more. But even if those guys are hitting shots, Okeke needs to try and match whatever LAwson does. He could take a bunch of threes or try and use his quickness to take LAwson off the dribble if that’s the matchup.
Auburn is the favorite, but considering it lives and dies by the three, it’s not an easy team to back and that was seen against NMSU. Kansas has the defensive edge and if it can get the usual numbers out of Dotson and LAwson, that could be enough to win this Game, assuming Auburn doesn’t hit 15 threes (it made 12 against NMSU and 15 in prior win against Tennessee).
Our Pick – Auburn -2