Date: Saturday April 6th
Opponent: Virginia Cavaliers
Location: U.S. Bank Stadium - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Network: CBS, Auburn Radio Network
In case you’ve been under a rock this week, yes, it’s true, Auburn Basketball is playing in the Final Four.
Until I arrived in Minneapolis yesterday, it had hardly set in for me that Auburn was playing in the Final Four. But now that I have seen Auburn practice on the floor where a National Champion will be crowned Monday night, it has finally sunk in for me.
Auburn’s road to the Final Four included knocking off New Mexico State, Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky. In that list of opponents are the Top 3 teams in wins all-time in college basketball. Now, Auburn will look to dispatch their 2nd #1 seed of this tournament in the Virginia Cavaliers.
Get to Know Virginia...
If you want a breakdown of X and O’s regarding Virginia, I highly encourage you to read AUNerd’s article from yesterday titled, “Meet Virginia.”
Virginia won the Regular Season ACC Championship alongside North Carolina, and come into Minneapolis at 33-3 overall. Their 3 losses: 2 to Duke and 1 to Florida State in the ACC Tournament. This is their 1st Final Four appearance since 1984.
This is a fascinating matchup because of the contrasting styles of play we’ll see on the court tonight. Auburn with the fast-paced chaos while Virginia is much slower and more methodical. Virginia leads the country in scoring defense allowing only 55.4 points a game this year. Only 3 teams (Maryland, Duke (2X) and Purdue scored more than 70 points on this Virginia team. The Cavs went 2-2 in those games.
As a team, Virginia averages 71.3 points a game. They average only 9 turnovers a game and shoot 41.9% from 3-point range.
Individually, they are led by junior guard (#5) Kyle Guy who averages 15.2 points and 4.6 rebounds a game. He scored 25 points and had 10 rebounds in their Elite 8 win over Purdue last Saturday night. Until then, he had struggled throughout this tournament scoring just 22 points over the team’s first 3 NCAA Tournament games. Guy has developed well for Virginia throughout his career as he has doubled his points per game since arriving in Charlottesville. He’s around 82% from the free throw line and 42.7% from 3-point range.
Next, we have sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter (#12), who many have as a 1st Round Pick in this upcoming NBA Draft. He averages 14.9 points and 5 rebounds a game for Virginia. He’s had 3 games in a row where he’s scored around 10 a game in each but had 23 in their won over Gardner-Webb in the 1st Round of the Tournament. Hunter is a 79.5% free throw shooter and a 42.4% 3-point shooter.
The third guard, junior Ty Jerome (#13), averages 13.3 points and 5.4 assists per game. Jerome has played all but 4 minutes this entire tournament. Last Saturday, he scored 24 points, had 7 assists and 5 rebounds in the Purdue game. He shoots 74.4% from the free throw line and 39.9% from 3-point range.
Junior forward Mamadi Diakite (#25) is the first big man we’ll highlight from Virginia. The 6’9” forward averages 7.5 points and 4.3 rebounds a contest in about 21 minutes a game. However, his minutes have increased throughout this NCAA Tournament and he has at least 9 rebounds in each of Virginia’s 4 Tournament games. He also shoots the 3 and makes 35.7% of those.
Next is junior forward (#2) Braxton Key. If you recognize the name, it’s because he formerly played at Alabama before transferring to Virginia. In his first season with the Cavaliers, he’s averaging 5.8 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. He didn’t play much in either Regional game in Louisville but he knows this Auburn team better than any of his teammates so keep an eye out on Key.
Sophomore forward Jay Huff (#30) is 7’1” and averages 4.5 points a game in only 9.5 minutes. He barely saw the court in Louisville as well as head coach Tony Bennett rolled with his starters for virtually the entire game against Purdue.
Next, I found a player who’s shorter than Jared Harper but will play a role in this game. Freshmen guard Kihei Clark (#0) is 5’9” and 155 pounds, but he’s come up big for Virginia especially in their Sweet 16 game against Oregon. He averages just 4.4 points a game but in a game that Virginia scored 53 points in the Sweet 16, Clark had 12 of them, and 6 assists.
The last rotation guy for Virginia is 6’10” center Jack Salt (#33). The New Zealand native averages just 3.9 points a game but plays a vital role for Virginia off the bench. He tied his season high of 34 minutes against Purdue and if Virginia elects to go big, you’ll see plenty of him out on the court today.
What to Look for from Auburn
Jared Harper and Bryce Brown scored 50 of Auburn’s 77 points in their OT win on Sunday. How Harper and Brown handles Virginia’s Pack Line Defense will be the matchup to watch the most here. Virginia is known to give up open 3s on the wings with it but will these guys be able to run up and down the court like they would prefer, or will Virginia’s vaunted defense force Auburn to play at Virginia’s tempo?
If Auburn makes open 3s and get out in transition a little bit, I like Auburn’s chances tonight. But if shots don’t foul and the Tigers fail to get into a good rhythm on offense, it’s going to be a long evening for Auburn. Auburn will be undersized up front but that certainly hasn’t stopped them. They’re playing a team in Virginia that’s extremely disciplined, well-coached and has a clear identity of what they want to do.
We know what Harper and Brown can do but Auburn needs somebody else to step up if they want to win this game. All week, I thought Danjel Purifoy or Austin Wiley could be that guy and while they may very well do so, based on what I saw in practice yesterday, I like that player to be either Samir Doughty or J’Von McCormick. Auburn isn’t here without McCormick’s great performance against New Mexico State and the way he has stepped up over the last month. Auburn isn’t in Minneapolis without Samir’s tremendous defense against Tyler Herro. To be fair, Auburn isn’t here without each player on this team contributing in their own way but I just feel like one of these guys is going to break out today.
Doughty and McCormick both looked comfortable shooting the ball in the stadium, another one of the big what-ifs going into this game. Based on what I saw yesterday, Auburn shot the ball well in practice but will that carry over to the game in front of 70,000 people? We’ll see.
Folks, Auburn is in the Final Four and regardless of what happens, this is the greatest team in Auburn Basketball history for what they’ve accomplished. It’s great to see Auburn Basketball get recognized for beating 3 bluebloods to get to the Twin Cities this weekend. There’s a nice Auburn contingent that’s made the trip up here to Minneapolis to watch this for themselves. Auburn is playing great right now and quite frankly, I think it continues tonight. Bryce Brown goes for 20+, Doughty or McCormick score at least 10 and Auburn keeps this magical run going to Monday night! Why Not Us?
Auburn 72 Virginia 65