Tennessee has a chance to lock up another share of the SEC title, repeating what it did last season. Even more, with only three total losses, the Volunteers could grab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if all goes well. But in the only meeting between these teams, Auburn has something else on its mind. The Tigers were the team that shared the title last season, but things haven’t gone to plan for them this year, sitting with seven Conference losses.
While Auburn has played the other top teams in the Conference tight, it is 0-3 combined against LSU and Kentucky. The positive for Auburn is that it took UK to the brink in an 82-80 home loss. The only other loss at home came against Ole Miss in a weird Game that finished 60-55. Surprisingly, Auburn won 94-84 in the only meeting between these teams last season and that came in Knoxville. It’s going to take a lot to repeat that effort because Auburn’s offense just hasn’t been as consistent this season as seen in the loss to Ole Miss.
Tennessee has the most efficient offense in the SEC and that’s the biggest edge between these teams because Auburn tends to have issues defensively, allowing one of the worst rates from inside the arc. The good news is that the Vols don’t defend threes well, one of the areas the Tigers excel.
In terms of matchups, Tennessee gets an overall advantage, no matter if Austin Wiley plays or not. While Auburns can at least match up down low with Chuma Okeke, Anferenee McLemore and Horace Spencer, it doesn’t exactly have the guy to mark Admiral SChofield, Tennessee’s second-leading scorer. SChofield usually provides a bit too much size for the opposing three and that’s what could happen against the smaller Samir Doughty. Auburn could put Malik DuNBAr or Danjel Purifoy at the three, but neither has put in consistent minutes this season.
There’s also a size issue in the backcOurt for Auburn, mainly with Jared Harper, who has to go against Jordan Bone, LAmonte Turner and Jordan Bowden. That trio of guards is one of the reasons the Vols are so consistent, something the Tigers have lacked. While Harper and Bryce Brown love to chuck it up from deep, Brown has failed to surpass nine points in three of the last Four Games and that’s not going to work in this matchup as Auburn’s leading scorer. There’s always the chance that those two guys get hot, especially Brown on senior night, but that’s not an easy thing to bet on.
Okeke has been a beast at times for Auburn, but it’s hard to give him the edge on Grant Williams, who could be headed for back-to-back SEC Player of the Year awards. Okeke can match up in size, but Williams is a little better at everything else, namely drawing fouls and that’s a trap Auburn can’t fall into, especially if Wiley doesn’t play. Williams could easily get Okeke, Spencer or McLemore into foul trouble early and that would force the Tigers to play even smaller, which won’t help.
This should be a fight, but even at home, Auburn will be a hard team to trust since its best trait is hitting threes. If those fall, the Tigers will win, but with a better backcOurt to go with the duo of SChofield and Williams, the Vols have more matchup advantages.
Our Pick – Tenn -2.5