GAME 23: Saturday, February 4th, 2023
#25 Auburn Tigers @ #2 Tennessee Volunteers
Thompson-Boling Arena - Knoxville, TN
Time: 1:00 pm CST/2:00 pm EST
Network: ESPN, Auburn Radio Network
Betting Odds: Auburn +9.5, Over/Under 131.5 via Draft Kings Sportsbook
(Odds/lines subject to change. Visit DraftKings for more information.)
We had it so good up until around this time last year. Auburn and Bruce Pearl had enjoyed a long decadent period in dominating the rivalry against Tennessee, and Rick Barnes finally broke through last season in beating Bruce for the first time in several tries.
Auburn had won six straight games in the series, starting by beating a top ten Tennessee squad in Knoxville in early 2018, including a season finale win in 2019 at then Auburn Arena, a destruction a few days later in the SEC Championship Game, and then the culmination of the shortened 2020 season where the Tigers got 8 threes from Samir Doughty and squashed the Vols in Knoxville again. Even during the ill-remembered 2021 season, Auburn beat Tennessee, just because Bruce knows what he’s doing against Rick Barnes.
The Vols finally broke through last year in Knoxville. A game that turned on a Jabari Smith technical foul saw Tennessee come back from from a 39-28 second-half deficit and outscore Auburn down the stretch. Alas, they won the game, but Auburn won the SEC regular season title.
Now, they’re ranked 2nd in America, but coming off of a loss themselves as they were slowed by Florida on Wednesday night while Auburn demolished Georgia and put up their best offensive night of the season. We’re going to get a wild atmosphere in Knoxville today, as they always seem to provide when Bruce Pearl comes to town.
Remember all of those guys from last year? Yeah, they’re all back for what seems like the umpteenth year. There are four seniors who’ll figure heavily into the rotation, including Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, Olivier Nkamhoua, and Tyreke Key. Those guys combine to average about 41 ppg, and they’re aided by underclassmen Zakai Zeigler (another returnee from last year) and Auburn target Julian Phillips. Those two add another 21 points per game, and give the Vol attack a more elite dynamic.
That six-man rotation is the one that we’ll see most of today, with a few subs coming in here and there, but this is who we’ll need to slow. The thing that really stands out about Tennessee is their defense, though.
The Vols are the second-best scoring defense in America, allowing just 55.0 points per game. They’ll crash the boards (10th best in rebounding overall), and they’ll hassle you into giving the ball away (18 nationally in steals). Offensively, they’re an unselfish team that likes to share the ball to get it in the bucket (14 nationally in assists). Still, they’ve got some vulnerable spots. Let’s look at their losses.
Most recently, they fell to Florida, where Colin Castleton dominated the game with 20 points, and the combo of James and Phillips went silent. In other losses to Kentucky, Arizona, and Colorado, there’s one common theme. The winning team had a guy who can be a huge force in the paint, gobbling rebounds and serving as a huge offensive factor as well. That’s why we need another game from Johni Broome like he had against Georgia.
Oh, it’ll be bold to predict Auburn going into Knoxville and coming out with a win. However, this is Bruce Pearl against Rick Barnes. I think we’ve been working toward this stretch and we may have finally figured it out and had a switch click on Wednesday night. This is a Broome game, where he can definitely work in the paint, but we need much more than that in terms of a clean game from Wendell Green (think 3/1 assist to turnover ratio). They’ll be hassling him after watching what Texas A&M did, but if we can get a nice clean sheet from him along with some scoring from some other source (Jaylin/Allen 15+ point game), then we’ll have a shot to win.
Auburn 63, Tennessee 61