After Auburn’s loss at home to Ole Miss back in mid February, I pondered in the C&M group chat whether this team would indeed even make the NCAA Tournament. Our resident lyrical mastermind “Son Of Crow” assured me that this was an above average team who would make some noise come March. I didn’t believe him.
I am very happy to be wrong.
We all know what happened next. The Tiger rattled off 10 wins over their next 11 games on their way to capturing an SEC Tournament Championship and earning a 5 seed in the Big Dance. The team we all had hoped we would see back at the start of the season arrived just in time to make some noise and now the Tigers are dancing into the Sweet 16 for only the 5th time ever.
It’s a durn good time to be an Auburn basketball fan.
The road to the Sweet 16 was taken very much the Auburn way. There was the near historic collapse in round one followed by a somewhat historic beatdown in round two. Leave it to the Tigers to come inches from excruciating heartbreak only to turn around two days later and play arguably their best game of the season.
In celebration of Auburn’s return to the Sweet 16, let’s relive some of the top moments from this past weekend starting first with Auburn’s heart attack inducing first round escape.
NEW MEXICO STATE
Twelve over five seeds are the sexy picks in the bracket for good reason. All but one five seed was dispatched in round one. That lone survivor ALMOST made it a clean sweep for twelve seeds but the Tigers were able to hang on and advance. Unfortunately, that final minute meltdown wiped out what was overall a strong game for Auburn, specifically for backup point guard J’Von McCormick.
It’s wild to think that the same kid who couldn’t stay on the floor against LSU dropped 16 points in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and racked up 4 assists while leading the Tigers’ offense in Auburn’s SEC Tournament Championship victory. But Bruce believed in this kid from the beginning, gave him minutes even when he didn’t look ready for them, coached him hard and now he’s playing a huge role in Auburn’s postseason victories.
The one thing that’s never been questioned about J’Von is his quickness. Here you see it in action. Bryce Brown attempts to take his man off the dribble which leads to J’Von’s man sliding down to help. Brown dishes to J’Von who then blows by his slow recovering defender and the shoulda been help man guarding Malik Dunbar. Most impressively though he doesn’t barrel over the NMSU forward who steps in to challenge his shot but instead hits a beautiful floater for two points.
Defense turning into offense is the simple blueprint Auburn is using right now to smoke the competition. Here you can see it in action. The Aggies attempt to feed their big man underneath but Chuma is able to poke the ball away and get it into Jared Harper’s hands. Harper then explodes past a defender for the finish.
Auburn’s ability to knockdown transition 3 pointers makes them so tough to guard in these moments. The lane is basically empty because one man is hugging Bryce Brown in the corner instead of stepping into stop the ball. If you don’t help, Harper will get to the rim with ease. If you do, you leave a three point shooter wide open to bury one. Pick your poison.
No idea why this gif came out of a potato but you can get the gist anyway. Again, this is Auburn’s defense turning into offense. Brown has turned himself into one of the best on ball defenders in the country. The Aggies’ point guard gets lazy with his dribble and Brown makes him pay.
Bruce hasn’t been shy about playing small lineups where both of his point guards are on the floor at the same time this season. It paid off big time in the 2nd half of this game. On back to back possessions, the Harper/McCormick tandem hooked up to deliver consecutive 3 pointers from the corner.
First, Harper pushed the pace and blows by two NMSU defenders, leaving one on his butt. Once he gets into the lane, Aggie defenders swarm inside, leaving McCormick wide open in the corner. The junior is shooting an impressive 55.6% from three this season though he’s only shot 18 three pointers this year.
Next time down the court it’s J’Von’s turn to setup his fellow point guard. He gets a high ball screen from Austin Wiley up top which opens a lane down the left side. McCormick drives and when Jared’s man sinks down to help, McCormick kicks it out to a wide open Harper who buries the 3.
Arguably Auburn’s most important bucket late in the game came from the man of the hour in J’Von McCormick again setup by Harper. It’s the same high ball screen we just saw but this time NMSU does a great job switching and forcing Harper wide. But Auburn’s star point guard finds J’Von in the corner who blows by a defender who does a poor job of closing out. Incredible job finishing through contact and the backup PG would convert the three point play.
Feels appropriate this gif is the poorest quality. Survive and advance people, survive and advance....
Tomorrow we will take a look at the beatdown Auburn gave one of college basketball’s historic powers Saturday night. Just over 48 hours until Auburn takes the court against another blue blood Friday night.