Date: Saturday March 23rd
Opponent: Kansas Jayhawks
Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena - Salt Lake City, Utah
Network: TBS, Auburn Radio Network
Everybody caught their breath yet? Good...
Auburn did their best to give the fanbase a heart attack, a stroke, or whatever you want to call it before escaping their 1st Round matchup with a game New Mexico State squad 78-77. The Tigers are also the last 5th seed standing in the NCAA Tournament as the remaining 5 seeds all went home either Thursday or Friday. Let’s face it: the NCAA did Auburn no favors. They won 4 games in 4 days and many were surprised to see them slotted as a 5 seed. Then, they had to fly nearly 2000 miles to Salt Lake City only 36 hours after returning to Auburn, and then were given a morning start time on Thursday. It was the Tigers 5th game in 8 days and fatigue clearly played a factor in the end of that game. Now, Auburn’s had a few more days to get acclimated to Salt Lake City and some time to rest a bit. They also got the late game on Saturday instead of another early tip-off.
Now, one win stands in the way of Auburn making the Sweet 16, something’s that only happened 4 times in program history. The program standing in the way, the Kansas Jayhawks, who all-time has played in 31 Sweet 16s, 15 Final Fours and won 3 National Championships.
Get to Know Kansas...
As a team, the Jayhawks average 75.4 points a game this year, while giving up 69.6. They average 38.1 rebounds, 13.4 turnovers and shoot 35% from 3-point range.
Kansas failed to win at least a share of the Big 12 Title for the first time 15 years this season. They’ll dealt with injuries and suspensions to key players but find themselves in this spot after destroying Northeastern 87-53 on Thursday afternoon. Kansas is missing it’s next 2 leading scorers in LeGerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike. Vick took a leave of absence from the team at the beginning of February and won’t return to the team. Azubuike dealt with injuries all year, playing in just 9 games this year. He had a high ankle sprain earlier this year before returning for less than 2 games before hurting his wrist, ending his season. Azubuike is 7’1” and 270 pounds so he would have made a major difference for Kansas this year. All in all, that’s about 27 points per game Kansas lost in production this year. They have also been without the services of Silvio De Sousa this year who was suspended through the 2019-2020 season and was expected to have a big role on this year’s team. But onto the guys who will play tonight.
The Jayhawks are led by 6’9” junior forward Dedric Lawson (#1). Lawson, a transfer from Memphis, has had an incredible 1st season in Lawrence. He is averaging 19.3 points, and 10.3 rebounds a game. On Thursday, he had 25 points and 11 rebounds. He’s also an 80.8% free-throw shooter so even when he gets fouled by the Auburn bigs, he’s a good free throw shooter as well. He’s also a 38.4% 3-point shooter so in short, he’s going to be a handful for Auburn tonight. Auburn has faced Zion, Ja Morant, PJ Washington, and Grant Williams this year and he’s probably one of the best 5 players Auburn will face this season. Lawson may get his points but it’s imperative for the Tigers to not let other guys for Kansas get hot as well.
Freshmen guard Devan Dotson (#11) averages 12.3 points, and 3.5 assists a game and among Kansas players playing, he’s the 2nd leading scorer. He scored 18 points in the win over Northeastern. He’s been turnover prone a bit this year but his turnovers have decreased later on in the season. From 3, he’s a 36% shooter.
The next Kansas player I’ll highlight didn’t even play in the non-conference schedule because Bill Self was planning on redshirting him. But after Azubuike went down, Self had to insert freshmen guard Ochai Agbaji (#30) into the rotation and he’s made a huge difference for the Jayhawks. While averaging 8.9 points and 4.8 rebounds, Agbaji has the ability to go for 20+, as he did 3 times in Big 12 play. He had 13 points and 5 rebounds on Thursday.
Fellow freshmen guard Quentin Grimes (#3) comes in averaging 8.2 points a game. He only had 3 points against the Huskies on Thursday but he’s a player that can get hot from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Marcus Garrett (#0) averages 7.3 points a game. Garrett had 8 points Thursday but something worth noting, he had 15 rebounds in the Big 12 Tournament title game against Iowa State last Saturday.
What to Look for from Auburn...
Auburn doesn’t win on Thursday without the emergence of J’Von McCormick. McCormick scored a career-high 16 points on Thursday and has been an absolutely critical piece in the Tigers last 2 games. He played great in the SEC Tournament and he’s kept that momentum. It’s been very comforting know that when Jared Harper is in foul trouble, you have McCormick who can come in and steady the team.
Speaking of Harper, he led the team in scoring Thursday with 17 points. He fouled out with 15 seconds left on a very un-Jared Harper like play. I expect Jared to come back and play well in this one.
Another player that struggled on Thursday who needs to play well tonight is Bryce Brown. Bryce only made 2 3-pointers Thursday and scored 12 points. Kansas is known to give up a lot of 3s and this could be a game for Brown to atone for his near season-ending foul that allowed New Mexico State to have 3 free throws with a second left, with Auburn clinging to a 2-point lead.
Chuma Okeke vs Dedric Lawson is a matchup I’m excited about. Okeke did most of his scoring early but this would be another great opportunity for Okeke to have a 20 point showing, like he did against Tennessee in the regular season finale. In addition, Auburn will need some contributions from Austin Wiley, Horace Spencer, and Anfernee McLemore to counter Lawson and the other forwards for the Jayhawks.
I’ve seen Auburn predicted to win this game by many people out there. I was more worried about the New Mexico State matchup (with good reason) to be honest. This is an Auburn team that’s been on a magical run this month. This is not a vintage Kansas team and Auburn tends to shoot better in a building where they’ve gotten a game under their belt. With Thursday behind them, I can see Auburn shooting a little better than they did on Thursday (12-31) from 3. I’ve felt good about this game all week and I’m sticking with my gut here and Auburn gets this W to keep this March run going!
Auburn 81 Kansas 76