Date: Thursday March 21st
Opponent: New Mexico State Aggies
Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena - Salt Lake City, Utah
Network: TNT, Auburn Radio Network
War Eagle everybody! We have almost made it to four of my favorite days of the year, the 1st and 2nd Rounds of the NCAA Tournament! I haven’t shared my thoughts on this website about what transpired in Nashville last weekend yet but I can’t begin to tell you guys how proud I am of this Auburn Basketball team. There was a time about a month when I began to wonder if Auburn would put it all together. Since losing to Ole Miss on February 13th, the Tigers are 10-1 and winners of 8 straight games, including 4 in 4 days in Nashville. Sunday was extremely sweet considering Auburn faced a team that was going to be a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the fact the game was in front of a crowd 90% or so full of Tennessee fans, and against a team surely destined to want revenge after losing out on a Regular Season SEC Championship 8 days earlier. The result, Auburn absolutely kicked the crap out of them and it was absolutely glorious!
This whole idea from people saying the reason Tennessee lost was because they considered Kentucky their Championship Game is a load of crap. Tennessee played bad Sunday, no question about it, but a lot of that had to do with Auburn playing outstanding on both sides of the ball. As we Auburn fans know, most sporting events are nip and tuck, tight, stressful, heart-stopping, you get the idea. Sunday was NOT one of those days and for that, we are all grateful.
As great as the SEC Tournament was, it’s now time to flip the page to the NCAA Tournament and I can’t say I’m thrilled with the Selection Committee did with Auburn. I figured Auburn would be at worst a 5 seed, but their win over Tennessee probably should have moved them up to a 4 seed. It sounds like the decision was already made on Saturday night and Auburn’s win over Tennessee was irrelevant for Auburn. (Personally, I would like to see all the games concluded by Saturday night so that the selection committee can know every result before finalizing the bracket to be revealed on Sunday but I highly doubt the SEC will move the tournament up a day).
It’s not the 5 seed that bugs me most, it’s the fact that after playing 4 games in 4 days, the networks decided to set Auburn up with a Thursday morning game, 2⁄3 of the way across country. I feel like there’s several ways Bruce Pearl can use some of these factors as motivation for the team. Auburn left early yesterday morning to fly to Utah. For a 7:30AM departure, this was an excellent turnout by the Auburn Family to see this team off and I’m glad I got to be a part of it.
Your Auburn Tigers on their way to Salt Lake City!!!!! pic.twitter.com/vOcdALxLf4— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) March 19, 2019
Get to Know New Mexico State...
The Aggies are 30-4 this year, and went 15-1, their only conference loss was on January 3rd to California Baptist, in their first year of Division 1 Basketball. Since then, the Aggies have won 18 straight games. They sit at 51 in KenPom rankings, while Auburn sits at 13. New Mexico State lost 3 games in their nonconference schedule. The first was at home to Saint Mary’s, winners of the WCC Tournament over Gonzaga. They also lost to Drake in Las Vegas, who shared the Missouri Valley Regular Season Title with Sister Jean’s Loyola-Chicago group. The other loss, a 3 point loss to Kansas at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Ironically, Kansas is in this pod as the 4 seed well along with 13 seed Northeastern AND whoever comes out of this portion of the bracket will play on that same floor that the Aggies and Jayhawks played on back in December.
You think Auburn plays a lot of guys? Not exactly when you look at the number of guys in New Mexico State’s rotation. Coach Chris Jans has a 13-14 man rotation. That’s unheard of! There is nobody on the Aggies roster that averages more than 25.4 minutes a game. As a team, they average 11.9 turnovers a game and a key in this game will be Auburn creating turnovers and speeding up the pace of the game. While the Aggies average 78.1 points a game, they prefer the game at a slower tempo.
On paper, they remind me a bit of Auburn. The Aggies are a team full of upperclassmen, they shoot a lot of 3s, they are a bit undersized and have more depth than most teams do, especially this time of the year. As a team, they shoot 33.5% from 3-point range. Guard Terrell Brown (#3) is the Aggies leading scorer. He averages 11.3 points a game, and shoots 43% from 3-point range. Brown is the team’s best free throw shooter at 78%.
Next up is forward Eli Chuha (#22), the team’s leading rebounder at 6.7 boards a game. He averages 9.8 points a game but only averages 20.9 minutes a game. He is however shooting 65.9% from the field. Next, is guard A.J. Harris (#11) averaging 9.6 points a game. He leads the team averaging 3.4 assists per game.
Averaging 9.5 points a game, Spanish forward Ivan Aurrecoechea (#15) plays about 17 minutes a game. He also averages 5.1 rebounds per contest. Next, we have JoJo Zamora (#4), one of only 4 Aggies that’s played in all 34 games this year. He’s averaging 7.5 points a game in 15.6 minutes per game. He’s also a 37.5% 3-point shooter. Guard Trevelin Queen (#20) was the team’s leading scorer in the WAC Championship against Grand Canyon scoring 27 points in their 32 point win. Like Zamora, he also averages 7.5 points a game.
Next, we have forward (#35) Johnny McCants who in 17.7 minutes a game, averages 5.9 points and 4.7 rebounds a game. Guard Clayton Henry (#5) was one of the Aggies most consistent performers in the WAC Tournament last week. He scored in double figures in all 3 games including 14 in the championship game. On the season, Henry scores 5.6 points a game while playing just over 15 minutes a game.
Forward C.J. Bobbitt (#13) and guard Shunn Buchanan (#1) are the other Aggie players to appear in all 34 games for the Aggies. Bobbitt averages 4.7 points a game and while Buchanan plays a decent amount of minutes (16.6 minutes a game), he only averages 2.1 points a game.
The Aggies starting lineup usually consists of Brown, Chuha, Bobbitt, Harris, and Henry but the dangerous part of this team is they’re very well-coached and it’s hard to tell which player is going to be hot on a particular day given it’s usually a different player each night.
Tomorrow, I’ll finish the preview by looking more at the game from an Auburn perspective plus give a score prediction. Until then, War Eagle!