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#12 Auburn vs N.C. State Game Preview and Open Thread

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Auburn hosts their first ACC foe in 6 years tonight!

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at N.C. State Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Thursday December 19th

Opponent: N.C. State Wolfpack

Location: Auburn Arena

Time: 8PM

Network: ESPN2, Auburn Radio Network

Great news Auburn fans, we didn’t have to wait 9 days between basketball games this time!

Auburn returns to Auburn Arena tonight to host 8-2 N.C. State after knocking off Saint Louis 67-61 in Birmingham on Saturday afternoon.

A year ago tonight, Auburn traveled to Raleigh and lost a game in which nearly everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Auburn got just 28 points from their starting lineup, had 25 turnovers and shot 5-25 from 3-point range. Markell Johnson had arguably his best game of his Wolfpack career and all in all, it was just a tough night for Auburn in PNC Arena.

Tonight, N.C. State returns the game from last year as Auburn looks to move to 10-0 on the season. The Wolfpack come into town off a big high after a half-court buzzer beater to beat UNC Greensboro on Sunday.

While Auburn is 9-0 and 1 of 4 remaining undefeated teams left in College Basketball, there are many people nationally that aren’t sure what to make of this Auburn Basketball team for the simple fact that they haven’t played a Power 5 school yet. That changes tonight and we’re gonna learn a lot about this team.

Auburn has 4 KenPom wins over Top 100 foes, and 5 wins away from Auburn Arena out of 9 games this year. That said, Auburn’s best win according to KenPom is against Richmond who is 68th. N.C. State is 36th in KenPom so this would become Auburn’s best win if they’re able to knock off the Wolfpack tonight.

Get to Know N.C. State

The Wolfpack according to KenPom are the 5th most efficient offense in the country. They average 82.5 points a game this year. They’ll play primarily 8 guys and they have 6 of those players averaging at least 9.5 points a game.

So far for the Wolfpack this year, their leading scorer and rebounder is senior guard C.J. Bryce (#13). Bryce is averaging 15.9 points per game along with 6.5 rebounds a game. Bryce had just 1 point in the team’s matchup last year so I’m going out on a limb to say he fares a little better than that tonight.

The man who put the Wolfpack on his back last season in the Auburn game was senior guard Markell Johnson (#11). Last year, he scored a (still) career-high 27 points against the Tigers and was 5-8 from the 3-point line. Johnson had an answer every time Auburn made a run in the game last season. This year, he is 2nd on the team in scoring at 13 PPG and leads the team averaging 6.2 assists per game, 3rd in the ACC.

Devon Daniels also had a big night against Auburn last year. He had 15 points and 8 rebounds off the bench for the Wolfpack. The junior guard (#24) is 3rd on the team this year averaging 11.4 points a game.

Forwards make up the next 2 leading scorers for the Wolfpack as sophomore Jericole Hellems (#4) is averaging 11.3 points a game while junior D.J. Funderberk (#0) is at 10.1 points a game.

I feel like we’ve seen guys who don’t always average the most points coming into their respective games against Auburn so these are the 2 guys I’m concerned about tonight. Statistically, they are the best 3-point shooters on the Wolfpack. Junior guard Braxton Beverly (#10) averages 9.6 points a game and shoots 45.7% from 3-point range. He had 15 points in the game last year and was 4-5 from 3-point range. Grad transfer Pat Andree averages 7.4 points a game and is shooting 47.6% from 3-point range. Andree shot over 41% from 3-point range in his previous last 2 seasons at Lehigh, who ironically is Auburn’s opponent on Saturday. Rounding out the rotation, 6’11” redshirt freshmen Manny Bates (#15) averages 6.5 points a game. He was a top 100 recruit that missed all of last year due to injury.

What to Watch for from Auburn

Last year in the N.C. State game, we saw the first glimpse of what J’Von McCormick could be as he scored a team high and then career-high 14 points off the bench for Auburn. J’Von is coming off a game in which he set a new career high with 20 points, while also adding 7 rebounds, 6 assists and just 1 turnover.

We saw a much more aggressive J’Von Saturday, particularly on offense, as he looks to be more of a scoring threat instead of just being a facilitator.

There’s one area where Auburn has a big advantage tonight and that’s in the rebounding department. N.C. State had just 2 offensive rebounds as a team against UNC Greensboro so I’m sure that’s something they’ve worked on a lot leading up to this game but they are 263rd in the country in rebounding while Auburn is 11th. Crashing the boards will go a long way in determining who wins tonight. This leads me to Austin Wiley.

Wiley has at least 8 rebounds in all but 1 game this year and is averaging 8.9 rebounds a game to go with his 10.7 points per game. Wiley came off the bench in the game last year and played well scoring 13 points. Hopefully the Tigers will look to get the big fella involved early and often against a team they have a clear advantage against in the paint.

Free throw shooting has to improve as well as the team is shooting just 63.3% from the line this year. N.C. State shoots 74.7% from the charity stripe as a team so in a close game, this is where Auburn is at a clear disadvantage.

Prediction

Last year, I went to this game and remembering what happened there last year has made me look forward to this game for awhile. This is a “revenge” game for Auburn and the Tigers need this game to boost their non-conference resume, and quite frankly, the SEC needs this game because the perception of this league right now isn’t good. The league is filled with several decent to good teams but Auburn could make yet another statement that they’ll be a force in the SEC this year with a win tonight. I’m sure after last year’s game and the ugly game they played on Saturday that Bruce will have his guys ready for tonight and I think Auburn gets to 10-0 tonight.

Auburn 78 N.C. State 71