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Auburn at #2 Baylor Game Preview and Open Thread

Auburn will see an old friend today as the Tigers head to Waco to take on undefeated Baylor in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge!

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday January 30, 2021

Auburn Tigers at #2 Baylor Bears

Ferrell Center - Waco, Texas

Time: 3PM

Network: ESPN, Auburn Radio Network

After today, only three teams in America will have faced off against both of the Top 2 teams in America this season, those teams: Kansas, West Virginia and Auburn.

(Of course, because would it really be an Auburn sports season if the Tigers didn’t face the #1 or #2 team or both in the same season?)

While this is a game to get away from the grind of the SEC schedule, the Tigers drew the Big 12’s best team this season on their home and Auburn will certain embrace that challenge. If you want to get a Baylor insight on today’s game, I highly recommend you check out the Q&A I posted yesterday with Our Daily Bears.

Get to Know Baylor

Baylor comes into today 15-0 overall, 8-0 in the Big 12 while the Tigers come in 10-7 overall, 4-5 in the SEC.

Today is the 7th all-time meeting between these two schools with Baylor holding a 4-2 advantage. The last meeting came in the 2009 NIT Quarterfinals won by Baylor at Beard-Eaves Coliseum. Of the previous 6 meetings, only 1 came in Waco, and that was won by Auburn 84-63 in 1995.

This is the 8th year of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and out of all 24 schools across the SEC and the Big 12, Baylor has the best win percentage in this event going 6-1.

There’s a ton of superlatives that I can throw out there for this team but the word I will throw out there as the most fitting for this Baylor group is efficient.

Baylor comes in to today’s contest as one of 4 undefeated teams in the country. They are the only team that has won each of their games by at least 8 points and all but 2 of those wins have been by double figures. They have the best scoring margin in the country as well, winning their games by an average of 25.7 PPG as they average 87.5 PPG while giving up just 61.8 PPG. Their points per game has also increased significantly this season as despite a 26-4 record last season, they averaged just 71.1 PPG last season.

And while we know how much Auburn loves to shoot the 3, they have never shot it as efficiently as Baylor has this season. Baylor leads the country shooting 44% from 3-point range this season. And of the six guys in their rotation that takes 3-point shots, each one of them is shooting 38% and higher from long range.

And we haven’t talked about the defense yet. Baylor is in the Top 20 in scoring defense and have 3 of the 15 guys on the Naismith Watch List for National Defensive Player of the Year.

The Bears are led by one of the best players in the country in junior guard Jared Butler (#12). Butler is averaging 16.8 PPG, 5.4 assists per game and remarkably is shooting 48.2% from 3-point range. He was National Player of the Week last week after averaging 26 PPG in wins over Kansas and Oklahoma State while shooting 13-16 from 3-point range in those 2 games.

Next is senior guard MaCio Teague (#31) who is 2nd on the team averaging 15 PPG and 4 RPG. He is Baylor’s best free throw shooter at 86.4% a game and shoots 38% from 3-point range, which is really good until you realize that’s the lowest of the six guys that shoot 3s on this team. He was 4-6 from 3 in Baylor’s last game, a 107-59 drubbing of Kansas State after going 0-8 in his previous 3 games.

Next is an old friend that will be fun to see once again in junior guard Davion Mitchell (#45). Davion came to Auburn in the 2017-2018 season and played a pivotal role as Jared Harper’s backup at PG that season. But with uncertainly at how long Harper would stay in Auburn, Mitchell elected to leave to find somewhere he could run a team.

And while it’s fair to wonder what if Davion had stayed at Auburn, just remember that J’Von McCormick doesn’t come to Auburn otherwise, so I think it’s fair to say this was a win-win situation for both sides.

Davion played in every game off the bench during that 2017-2018 season for Auburn averaging 3.7 PPG and shot 28.8% from 3. Last season in his first year at Baylor, he averaged 9.9 PPG, shot 32.4% from 3 and was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.

This year, he’s only gotten better while continuing to play the tremendous defense he’s always been known for. Davion is averaging 12.8 PPG, 5.9 APG and 47% from 3-point range. His last game was the best of his career as he led Baylor with a career-high 31 points and you know he will be even more motivated than ever going against his former team today.

The next 3 guys in scoring for Baylor come off their bench but just shows how talented up and down the roster this Bears squad is.

Sophomore guard Adam Flagler (#10) is in his first season playing for Baylor after playing one year at Presbyterian, where he averaged 15.9 PPG and won Big South Freshmen of the Year. Sound familiar? That reminds me of former Auburn player Desean Murray who also had a big freshmen year at Presbyterian before transferring to a Power 5 school. He is averaging 9.7 PPG and is shooting 42.9% from 3-point range this season.

We’ve talked nothing but guards so far but next is one of the more intriguing guys I’ve seen this year when I’ve watched Baylor play. Sophomore Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (#23), or Everyday Jon for short, was a part of the NBA Global Academy in Australia before making his way to the United States. The Cameroon native began his college career at UNLV before transferring to Baylor where he has thrived this season. Everyday Jon is averaging 8.3 PPG and leads the team averaging 6.4 RPG. He provides the kind of spark you would see from a guy like Dylan Cardwell or Stretch Akingbola.

Junior Matthew Mayer (#24) has come off the bench in each of his 3 seasons in Waco but this year his production is up, as his PPG has increased from 4.8 last year to 8.1 PPG this year. He’s a 43.2% 3-point shooter.

As for the starting frontcourt, forward Mark Vital (#11) is averaging 6.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG and had 2 of his best scoring games this season in the team’s last 2 contests. Junior forward Flo Thamba (#0) rounds out the starting lineup is averaging 3.9 PPG along with 4.4 RPG.

Keys for Auburn

Sharife Cooper, Sharife Cooper, Sharife Cooper.

This will the biggest test Cooper faces all year in my opinion with the defenders that Baylor can consistently throw at him. Combine that and Auburn goes when Sharife goes and he has to have a monster performance for Auburn to have a chance in this one.

Sharife set an Auburn record making 18 free throws in a game last time on his way to a 28 point performance and he is going to have to get the Baylor guards in foul trouble, just as he did to Missouri’s guards. It took Sharife 6 games to eclipse the team leader in assists as well as he’s averaging 8.7 APG to go with his 22.3 PPG.

I think this could be a big game for J.T. Thor as well. Thor has continued to get better as the season goes on and my gut feeling is that on a big stage like he’ll be on today, he’s going to have a big game for Auburn.

Chris Moore had his best game as an Auburn Tiger Tuesday night knocking down a trio of 3-pointers and gave Auburn 11 points off the bench, a bench that scored 34 points Tuesday night against Mizzou. While Moore was on from 3, the rest of the team combined to go 3-18 from 3 as Auburn finished 6-21 from 3. Auburn has to make at least 15 3s today to have a shot.

Prediction

This Baylor team has National Championship aspirations and I think that’s a distinct possibility. I really wish we could have seen this matchup last season. Both of those teams were in the Top 10-15 for most of the season and it would have made for a very compelling game.

This game comes down to how Sharife fares against Butler, Mitchell and Teague. If they’re able to slow Sharife down, this could get ugly. But if Sharife goes for 30, 10 assists and 7-8 rebounds, and has a couple guys step up to help him knock down shots, Auburn can hang around in this game. With the Bears shooting and defense strengths, realistically, I’m just hoping that Auburn gives a great effort and makes this interesting for awhile. Auburn could keep this close for 30-35 minutes, but I think Baylor closes the game out strong and pulls away late.

Baylor 87 Auburn 70