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Oklahoma at #1 Auburn Game Preview and Open Thread

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Auburn gets a chance to give the Sooners a proper greeting to the SEC.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday January 29th, 2022

Oklahoma Sooners at Auburn Tigers

Auburn Arena

Time: 1:00PM CT

Network: ESPN, Auburn Radio Network

So y’all were really worried huh?

There’s been a lot of eyes on Auburn Basketball this week after earning the #1 ranking for the first time ever. Then Auburn was able to survive their worst shooting performance of the season in a narrow win at Missouri.

Then, media members in the state of Kentucky decided it would be a good idea to start the speculation that Bruce Pearl could leave Auburn to take the Louisville job once that job came open earlier this week. I mean I get it, BP taking the Louisville job would get him out of the SEC so they could presumptively reclaim their throne as the “top dog” in SEC basketball and Auburn is now 6-5 in their last 11 meetings with Big Blue Nation. Well that went about as well as Jesse Newell attempting to double down on his #9 ranking of Auburn two weeks ago.

BP for life!

Regardless of the speculation the last few days, it would have been incredibly shocking for Auburn to not do whatever it took to make sure Bruce got everything he wanted and needed for this program to continue to be successful for years to come.

And kudos to Allen Greene and everyone involved for not letting this become a distraction and getting this done quickly instead of dragging this out like we’ve seen in the past on the football side of things.

Now, with that out of the way, we can go back to focusing on things pertaining to the court and today, Auburn gets a chance to introduce a future SEC opponent to Auburn Arena.

Oklahoma (13-7, 3-5 Big 12) makes its first ever trip to Auburn to take on the Tigers (19-1, 8-0) this afternoon in the 9th year of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. This will be Auburn’s 7th time playing in the event with the Tigers 2-4 in their first 6 games. Last season, Auburn lost at eventual National Champion Baylor. This is actually the first time these two schools have met on campus as the previous 3 meetings all-time were on neutral courts. Auburn won the last matchup against the Sooners 74-70 during the 2016-2017 season up in Connecticut and are 2-1 all-time against Oklahoma.

Quickly looking back at Auburn’s last game against Missouri and a midweek trip to Columbia, Missouri is never easy, but a post-Kentucky letdown was certainly a possibility and Missouri gave Auburn everything they wanted and much more. KD Johnson led the way with 17 points and hit 2 huge buckets in the final 90 seconds that made the difference. Walker Kessler recorded another double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds and Devan Cambridge had 9 offensive rebounds for Auburn. After shooting 57% against Kentucky, Auburn shot just 30% against Missouri but Defense Travels and they did just enough to get out of CoMo with the victory.

Get to Know Oklahoma

The Sooners come into today’s matchup having lost 4 of their last 5 games but won their previous game against West Virginia in Morgantown on Wednesday night. Don’t let their record fool you, this is a good basketball team and they hired one of the most sought after coaches in America last offseason in Porter Moser. Moser of course was the Head Coach at Loyola-Chicago and took the Ramblers to the 2018 Final Four. It’s his first season in Norman and he looks to build on a program that has consistently been a NCAA Tournament participant.

They are 2-0 against the SEC this season with wins over Florida and Arkansas along with wins over Iowa State and UCF. They currently sit at 27 overall in KenPom and at 20 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. They average 70.9 PPG and give up just 62.5 PPG. They shoot 33.8% from 3 and about 75% from the free throw line but this team is more known for their efforts on the defensive end.

Leading the way for Oklahoma is senior forward Tanner Groves (#35), a grad-transfer from Eastern Washington, who burst onto the national scene in the NCAA Tournament last season by scoring 35 points against Kansas. It wasn’t enough to beat the Jayhawks that day but he certainly improved his stock and landed in Norman along with his brother Jacob who we’ll talk about in a minute.

He was last year’s Big Sky Player of the Year at Eastern Washington and this season, Groves is averaging 13.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG and is shooting 37.9% from 3 this season.

Next is senior guard Umoja Gibson (#2) who began his career at North Texas and is in his second year with Oklahoma. Gibson is Oklahoma’s primary 3-point shooter and is a 37.6% shooter. He is averaging 12.4 PPG and has made 50 3s so far this season. Gibson is for all intents and purposes automatic from the free throw line as well as he is a 93.6% FT shooter (44-47) and is the team leader in steals.

Next is junior forward Jalen Hill (#1) who is averaging 9.4 PPG and is the team’s leading rebounder at 6.3 RPG. He is shooting 63.6% from the field and 30% from 3-point range.

Senior guard Elijah Harkless (#55) began his career at Cal State Northridge and like Gibson is in his second season at Oklahoma. He is also averaging 9.4 PPG and 4.4 RPG this season. He shoots 31% from 3.

Next is senior guard Jordan Goldwire (#0), a grad transfer from Duke. Goldwire is averaging 9.1 PPG and leads the team in assists. He shoots 84.8% from the FT line and 27.7% from 3.

As we mentioned earlier, Tanner Groves younger brother Jacob Groves (#34) also transferred to Oklahoma from Eastern Washington in the offseason. He made his first start of the season on Wednesday against West Virginia and is averaging 4.3 PPG this season.

Coming off the bench for Oklahoma is freshmen guard C.J. Noland (#2) who returned to action Wednesday after missing time with a concussion. They may also get senior forward Ethan Chargois (#15) back from injury as well but won’t know until game-time if he will play. Both guys average 4.6 PPG. Freshmen guard Bijan Cortes (#14) should get some minutes as well.

Prediction

Just like last Saturday, there’s going to be a ton of energy in the building (but I promise you they didn’t come to see Kentucky). In addition to the #1 ranking and the contract extension for BP, Sonny Smith is being honored as well getting a banner in the rafters for his efforts and achievements during his coaching career and now broadcast career at Auburn.

If there’s one thing Auburn has to get better at, that’s getting off to better starts. We’re seeing a growing trend of slow starts by the Tigers that are leading to 10-12 point holes that have to be overcome. Auburn has been able to weather the storm and cut into the lead as the halves wear on but it’s something the Tigers have to do better as the calendar is about to shift into February.

This will be a great time for Jabari Smith to bounce back after a season low 5 points at Missouri Tuesday night. And KD Johnson has been an absolute menace for the Tigers this season on defense and with his energy but his offense has been really good over the past few weeks as well.

Oklahoma is looking for a signature win as right now, they are sitting close to the bubble and a win in Auburn Arena would be a huge boost to their resume. All in all, this is a great matchup and I look forward to seeing these two teams playing yearly in the next couple of years. As for today, I think Auburn has too much at home and what I think will be a tightly contested game.

Auburn 76 Oklahoma 66