It’s been a while since we did one of these, but when you get the opportunity in the NCAA tournament, you jump on it. So when Will McLaughlin, from SB Nation’s Auburn site College and Magnolia, reached out to so a Q&A, I jumped at the chance.
RCT: First of all, can you tell me a little bit about what Bruce Pearl has done with this program? They weren’t from being basically a last resort type destination for a guy that got thrown out of Tennessee to being a contender na surprisingly tough SEC conference the last two years, with basically no buildup. What’s the secret?
C&M: Auburn is very lucky to have Bruce Pearl and he’s done something with this program that very few guys had the ability to do: he’s made this university, this community, the Auburn fanbase care about Auburn Basketball. He is a brilliant motivator, and outstanding marketer and knows how to get the best out of his kids. A lot of the guys on Auburn’s roster weren’t recruited by the big schools and Bruce uses that moniker to motivate his players to play hard and always play with a chip on their shoulder.
The last 2 years have been incredible to see the transformation of Auburn Basketball. What’s even more impressive is that they’ve done this despite the SEC being as good in basketball as it’s ever been. Last year really came out of nowhere but there were high expectations this year and at times, there were a lot of people disappointed with the season.
But, since getting blown out at Kentucky on February, Auburn has won 9 straight games leading into tonight.
RCT: I think all I’ve heard anyone talk about when they mention this game is how well Auburn shoots the 3 and how poorly Kansas defends it. What other part of Auburn’s offense do the Jayhawks need to look out for?
C&M: Auburn likes to push the tempo which is part of what leads to Auburn shooting the 3 so much. They love turning their defense into offense and getting points in transition. The Tigers may give up some easy open layups to kick the ball to a 3-point shooter because, well, 3 is worth more than 2, and that’s the attitude of this basketball team and their head coach.
Bruce has confidence in all of his guys to take the 3-point shot. This team would love to get in a track meet with you and wear the other team out, especially with the Tigers playing 10 guys. There’s not a big drop-off when Auburn goes to the bench either which has been a huge part of this recent play.
RCT: Defensively, it seems that Auburn basically just steals the ball, and struggles everywhere else. Is that a fair assessment?
C&M: Auburn is one of the best teams in the country in forcing turnovers. Bruce throws a bunch of different defenses at the opponent depending on the game situation. I think one of the areas that the Tigers struggle on defensively is playing good defense for the majority of the shot clock and giving up a 3 at the end of it.
Auburn’s not a great rebounding team either so that’s something to watch as well. That’s one of my biggest concerns going into tonight and how Auburn plays defensively.
RCT: How is Auburn going to handle Dedric Lawson?
C&M: That’s got to be Auburn’s biggest concern going into tonight. Auburn has faced off against guys such as Zion, Grant Williams, and PJ Washington this year and in regards to talent, Dedric Lawson will be one of the toughest guys Auburn has to go up against this year. Auburn has 3-4 guys that I expect to rotate trying to guard Dedric Lawson. The Tigers will start with Anfernee McLemore, but you will also see Horace Spencer and Austin Wiley rotate in off the bench. It’s always good to have a 6’11” 260 pounder to come in off the bench and getting Wiley back has been a huge boost for this Auburn team.
In addition, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chuma Okeke on Lawson as well. He’s one of best defensive players in the SEC despite not getting the recognition he deserves. I fully expect Lawson to have a big game tonight, the key will be for others to not have a big game as well.
RCT: Which Kansas player are you afraid is going to just go off against this team unexpectedly?
C&M: I’m going to say Quentin Grimes because looking at the box score from Thursday’s game, he had just 3 points but I know he’s a really good 3-point shooter. I would imagine Auburn will do all they can to slow down Lawson which may lead to some open looks on the perimeter. Grimes has had several games when he’s made 3 or more 3s in a game so that’s who I would be worried about if I were Auburn.
RCT: Who should Kansas fans be worried about the most from this Auburn squad?
C&M: Bryce Brown. He didn’t have his best game on Thursday, only making 2 3s but he’s 2 3s away from being 2nd all-time in the SEC in 3-pointers made throughout their career. I think this is a game where Bryce can make 5-6 3-pointers and he’s also one of Auburn’s better defenders as well.
With the chaos Auburn likes to play with, look for Bryce to shoot early and often. Once he makes 1 3, his confidence goes through the roof and he can make 3-4 3s in a row.
RCT: Prediction Time! Who wins this game, and how entertaining will it be?
C&M: I think this is going to be one of the best games of the day. To see Auburn play a blueblood like Kansas is always a great opportunity for this program. I think this game comes down to who shoots the 3 better. I think Lawson will get his points and rebounds but if Auburn can make 14-15 3s tonight, I like the Tigers chances. They’ve gotten contributions from many different guys throughout the last 9 games and it’s going to take a collection of guys to knock off a team like Kansas.
Even if this isn’t a vintage Kansas team, it doesn’t matter, I respect the Kansas program for what they’ve accomplished, especially 14 straight Big 12 Regular Season Titles. Auburn’s been to 4 Sweet 16s, none since 2003. Kansas has been to 31 Sweet 16s. This game is a big deal for Auburn and a great barometer to see how far this program has come in the last 4-5 years.
Auburn will have more energy than they did Thursday, keep in mind, Thursday was their 5th game in 8 days and the NCAA did them absolutely no favors regarding travel and game time. My gut says, Auburn pulls this off.
Auburn 81 Kansas 76
RCT: BONUS - What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen live at a sporting event?
C&M: Craziest thing: the environment for the 2017 Football games between Georgia and Alabama. That was incredible to be a part of.
But since we’re talking basketball, the craziest thing I’ve seen was a moment that was a turning point in Auburn Basketball. Auburn hosted Kentucky in 2016, it was Bruce Pearl’s 2nd year here, and the Tigers pulled the upset that day 75-70. We stormed the court and while it cost the SEC $100,000, I’m sure it was worth every second of it. It was one of the first times that I realized that Auburn could become a basketball school of sorts. It will never get close to football (to my chagrin) but this was a moment that was a springboard to the success Auburn has had the last 2 years.
A big thanks to Will for helping us out today. Don’t forget to check out the questions I answered for over on College and Magnolia as well.