Show Me My Opponent: Auburn (#2)

LINEUP NOTES

Auburn:

  • Now that Okoro is back, Pearl’s favorite lineup is starting again. McCormick, Doughty, Okoro, Purifoy, Wiley.
  • Lately, out of nowhere, Pearl has started giving a ton of minutes to otherwise unnotable backup Jaylin Williams. Across Auburn’s first 25 games this year: 19 total minutes. Across their last five: 69!
  • Nine-man rotation, with the main five, Williams, and Flanigan/Cambridge/McLemore.

Tennessee:

  • Do you ever look at the above collection of players and think “this team beat Kentucky?” I just did.
  • Vescovi, Bowden, JJJ, Pons, Fulkerson.
  • If you’ll recall, Rick Barnes spent most of November and December searching for players he could consistently play off the bench when it mattered in March. Well, we’re two games down in Basically March (c’mon, Leap Day is just a fancy March 1), and here are the combined bench minutes: Jalen Johnson 21, Davonte Gaines 8, Uros Plavsic 5, Olivier Nkamhoua 2 (DNP Kentucky), Drew Pember 0. So…we’re basically at a six- or seven-man rotation, just like Tennessee was looking at in November. This is not a condemnation by any means, but it’s just interesting.

KEY MATCHUPS

Jordan Bowden vs. Samir Doughty. Bowden handily won this matchup last time out, playing the single best game of his career in a brutal road loss. If he’s anywhere near as good this time, I’m confident Tennessee wins, but it is quite frustrating how guys like Doughty somehow uncover their dormant three-point shooting ability when playing Tennessee. Worth noting, to me, is that Auburn is 3-3 when Doughty scores single digits and 21-3 otherwise.

Josiah-Jordan James vs. Isaac Okoro. Finally! If you’re curious, I thought JJJ was dominant on defense down the stretch, and he made some key offensive plays that helped Tennessee finish off the Ruppset. Since his return, Okoro has been…kinda not good? I have no idea why this is the case, but he’s only taken 18 total shot attempts over his last three games and seems to be way more included on defense than on offense. It certainly hasn’t helped Auburn.

John Fulkerson vs. Austin Wiley. Wiley won this last time because Fulkerson committed a pair of early fouls for what really did feel like the first time in SEC play. I’m pretty confident that won’t happen twice, partially because Fulkerson is very good and partially because SEC officiating at home is hilariously different than SEC officiating on the road.

PREDICTION

THE GAME. Tennessee 68-65.

EVERYTHING ELSE. Here’s the deal: Tennessee probably finishes with the 7 seed if they win and Texas A&M loses. They finish at the 8 if A&M wins. A&M is a road underdog to Arkansas, who can slide into the 10 seed with a win. But here’s what I think everyone should want: A&M loss, Alabama loss to Missouri, meaning Tennessee gets the 7 seed and avoids an Arkansas rematch. I’ll go ahead and say it happens, because we’ve had oddly good luck with speaking things into existence this season.

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