MINNEAPOLIS, MN— The Auburn Tigers line up tonight and goes toe-to-toe with the Virginia Cavaliers. It is a game that will sure to be a clash of styles. Auburn plays a “space and pace” style that feeds off of chaos and is at its best when it can run and force turnovers. Virginia plays a methodical, disciplined style that suffocates and drains you with its defense while playing extremely patient on offense. This game will be a battle of wills. Who is more committed to who they are and forcing their opponent to play that way? The college basketball world is going to know in just a few hours.
At first glance, this matchup likely favors Virginia who rosters a couple Associated Press All-Americans. They have a future NBA lottery draft pick in Deandre Hunter. They also have sharpshooter Kyle Guy who can get hot at any moment. Not only does Virginia have the star power in this game, they have the size. They boast a seven-foot-one center in Mamadi Diakite as well as Jack Salt, a six-foot-ten-inch center who weighs 250 pounds. Virginia gets really strong guard play out of Guy and Ty Jerome. Virginia knows who they are. They are going to control the pace and make you work for every single point.
Auburn, on the other hand, has the depth. Auburn is, in all honesty, the deepest team in the tournament. Auburn is also the deadliest team in the country when it come to shooting the three-ball. While Virginia wants to control the pace and slow the game down, Auburn wants to set the pace free and let it run wild and free. Auburn thrives in chaos. The thing is, Auburn is also the best in the country at creating chaos. Auburn hangs its hat on making its opponent’s feel uncomfortable.
Virginia may be a team that can be somewhat slow and monotonous to play and to watch, but do not sleep on this team from three. They are seventh in the country in three-point field goal percentage at 39.4%. Auburn does not shoot the same percentage from deep, but they live by the volume. Auburn is first in the nation in made three pointers and second in three-point attempt. With 445 made threes, Auburn is within striking distance of the all-time record for made threes by a team. Auburn is just 19 threes away from breaking the record set by last season’s national champions, Villanova. The three point line is going to be one of the key things to watch in this game. Whoever wins the battle on the three-point line has a huge advantage.
Virginia would not be here without its defense. They allow the fewest points-per-game of any team in the nation at 55.4 points. They’ll need that defense today as they see an Auburn offense that averages 80.2 points a game. As well as Auburn shoots the three, Virginia only allows their opponents to hit 28.7 percent of their threes, good for fourth nationally. Virginia is no slouch on defense inside the arc as well. They allow their opponents to only hit 45.4% of their twos. It cannot be understated how solid this Virginia defense is. The only thing is, they have yet to see a squad like Auburn.
Neither team is particularly good on the glass. However, Virginia does has a +5.2 rebounding margin which is solid. Auburn has a -1.2 rebounding margin. As scary as that stat seems, Auburn just faced two of the best rebounding teams in America in its last two game. One of the games Auburn did not have its best rebounder in Chuma Okeke. Auburn was only outrebounded by four in each game. Auburn was right there with Kentucky and North Caolina. Auburn refused to be physically dominated against two teams that, on paper, should have utterly destroyed Auburn on the glass. If Auburn rebounds like they did against those two teams, then expect Auburn to be even if not ahead on the glass which would be huge for the Tigers.
The turnover battle might be the most intriguing matchup in this game. On one hand, there’s Auburn who is the best team in the country at forcing turnovers. Auburn is first in steals and opponent turnovers this year. Contrastingly, Virginia is best team in the country when it comes to not turning the ball over. Virginia turns it over exactly nine times a game. The tempo and pace of the game will dictate who wins this battle. If the game is a half court game, Virginia will likely protect the basketball and win this matchup. If Auburn can make Virginia start to un with them, Auburn will force more turnovers and make the pace get even faster.
The backcourts for each team will be the positions to watch. It will be Auburn’s Jared Harper and Bryce Brown against Virginia’s Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. Brown and Harper combine to average 31.4 points and are just coming off a huge 50-point effort where they took over the second half against Kentucky and would not be denied. Bryce Brown was perfect from the field in the second half as he ran up 24 points. His backcourt running mate Jared Harper put up 26 points while continuously driving to the basket time after time and going a perfect 11-11 from the free throw line. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, not to be outdone, combined for 49 in their last game. Kyle Guy finally broke out of his horrendous shooting slump through the tournament to go 5-12 from three on the way to dropping 25.
The key for Auburn is going to be to get the pace going. They need to turn over Virginia as much as possible. Auburn needs to use its depth to its advantage and try and wear out Virginia. If Auburn can win the battle on the board and the battle of the guards, Auburn has to like its chances.
The key for Virginia is defending the three pointer. They need to slow the pace down and turn the game into a half court game. Kyle Guy needs to get going for this Virginia team. If they allow themselves to get in a track meet and he is not rolling, they can kiss their chances goodbye. They need assert their pace and lead right from the tip. Control the game early and it will be much easier to control it for the whole game rather than playing from behind.