SEC Tournament Preview: Arkansas vs. Auburn

SEC Tournament Preview: Arkansas vs. Auburn

Auburn Tigers vs. Arkansas Razorbacks

Line: Auburn -1

Total: 145

Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee

When: Thursday, 3/9 at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV: SEC Network

A pair of teams that appear to be safely in the NCAA Tournament field will square off in the second round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.

No. 7 seed Auburn bolstered its resume with a win over Tennessee last Saturday, while Arkansas enters the postseason riding a three-game losing streak. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had both teams as No. 9 seeds in the Big Dance as of Wednesday afternoon.

“We feel like through the regular-season basketball we’ve proven that we’re an NCAA Tournament team,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said.

Oddsmakers opened the Razorbacks as 1.5-point favorites for Thursday’s tilt, but the early betting action flipped the line to Auburn -1 as of Wednesday afternoon. The total saw some slight movement, getting bumped from 144.5 to 145.

Auburn cruised to a 72-59 win in the lone regular-season meeting between these teams, easily covering the 2.5-point spread in a game that went ‘under’ 140.5 points on Jan. 7. The Tigers raced out to a 4-0 lead when Wendell Green Jr. converted a 4-point play just 14 seconds into the game and they never trailed again.

Green paced Auburn with 24 points in last weekend’s 79-70 win over then-No. 12 Tennessee, shooting 8 of 14 from the floor. It was nowhere near a one-man show, though, as Green had three teammates reach double figures as well. Senior forward Jaylin Williams finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Tigers, who shot 49.1% from the floor and committed just six turnovers.

“A good offensive performance doesn’t necessarily translate to the next game because everybody is so different,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said.

The Tigers have had their fair share of struggles stringing together hot shooting days, as they rank No. 235 in KenPom’s effective field goal percentage ratings and No. 319 in 3-point percentage (31.4). Their strength offensively has been an offensive rebounding percentage that is No. 31 nationally.

Sophomore forward Johni Broome leads Auburn with 14.0 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, while Green is scoring 13.9 points and dishing out 4.2 assists. They are facing an Arkansas defense that is elite, ranked No. 16 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings.

The Razorbacks struggled down the stretch, losing five of their final seven games after winning five straight conference games. They were unable to complete a season sweep against Kentucky, losing by nine points in Saturday’s rematch.

“You look at our record over the last seven games, and we’ve got to play better basketball, that’s for sure,” Musselman said.

Star freshman guard Nick Smith Jr. was absent due to an injury when these teams met in early January. He has provided a spark since returning, averaging 21.8 points per game over his last four outings, scoring at least 24 in three of those games. Arkansas has been struggling from the perimeter as well, ranked No. 287 in 3-point percentage (32.1).

Junior guard Ricky Council IV leads Arkansas with 16.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Freshman guard Anthony Black (12.8) and junior guard Davonte Davis join Council and Smith in double figures. They are facing an Auburn defense that is No. 11 in field goal percentage and ranks sixth in 3-point percentage.

DraftKings has both teams at 12-1 to win the SEC Tournament, sitting behind Alabama (+150), Tennessee (+300), Kentucky (+400) and Texas A&M (+550). The Razorbacks are 70-1 longshots to win the NCAA Tournament, while the Tigers are 90-1.

Arkansas has gone ‘over’ the total in four of its last five games, and these teams have gone ‘over’ in 10 of their last 15 games. Auburn has covered the spread in four the last six head-to-head meetings.

The pick: Arkansas +1

Yeah, Arkansas did not look good at the end of the regular season, I can acknowledge that. However, I am still finding value on the Razorbacks in this game, as Smith did not play in the first meeting between these teams and yet the line is basically identical (once home-court advantage is accounted for). Arkansas has more length than Auburn at almost every position, and it has more consistent firepower offensively. Council is the best player on the court in this game, and his leadership is going to be the difference in a postseason battle against an Auburn team that tends to get sloppy. Arkansas went 4-1 in neutral-site games this season, covering the spread in all four of those wins.

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