The North Carolina State Wolfpack are looking to make it back to the NCAA Tournament after Kevin Keatts led them to the postseason for the first time in three seasons last year. NC State is off to a solid 9-1 start, but the program is in need of a non-conference win over a good team or else they will likely need to go 9-9 or better in conference play. They will get a chance to pick up a huge win on Wednesday night when they host the Auburn Tigers. Auburn is ranked No. 7 in the nation coming into this one.
Neither team has any injuries or suspensions of note. Auburn has been unscathed this year according to Don Best, while NC State’s only blemish was losing forward Ian Steere to a transfer prior to the start of the season.
Oddsmakers seem to like NC State’s chances at picking up a big win as the Wolfpack are one-point favorites here. It’s important to note though that this is the time of year where students travel home for the holidays and leave campus, so the home court advantage for the Wolfpack may be muted. The total in this game is 156.5.
What’s at Stake?
NC State’s best win so far this season came against 5-5 Penn State, so the Wolfpack are looking to prove themselves and get a win that would really help their resume. Their strength of schedule is currently ranked 340th in the nation, and they lost to their only previous tough opponent (Wisconsin). This is a game the Wolfpack really need.
The Tigers have grabbed impressive victories over Washington, Xavier, and Arizona, so they have already shown their mettle in non-conference play. Auburn’s lone loss of the year came against Duke, and its defense flustered the Blue Devils offense pretty well. A win here only helps them and it gives the SEC a boost in terms of how people view the conference too.
This is Auburn’s first true road test of the year, so they will finally enter Graham Couch’s rankings next week. The Tigers have defeated Xavier, Arizona, and UAB on neutral courts though, so they know about winning away from home. This will be Auburn’s last true test before the start of SEC play.
NC State has not played an opponent as tough as Auburn this season, and the Wolfpack will close out their non-conference slate with minnows the next two weeks.
NC State’s top three scorers have all been very efficient from the floor so far this season. Torin Dorn, CJ Bryce, and Markell Johnson are all shooting better than 53 percent from the field, and the trio has been lights out from range too. All three players are hitting 43 percent or better from downtown, and Auburn will have to be able to defend the perimeter.
The Tigers have one of the best guards in the country in Bryce Brown. Brown isn’t the most efficient shooter, but he is a volume scorer that can get his own shot off in the mold of Kemba Walker. He plays tenacious defense too, and he will look to shut down the Wolfpack guards. Jared Harper has been great from distance, but he may have some trouble shooting over NC State’s taller guards.
There’s no doubt that Auburn has the edge on the interior. Austin Wiley and Chuma Okeke have not been on the floor together much, but Bruce Pearl might throw them out there together to take advantage of the size mismatch. NC State does not have great rebounders, and Auburn could dominate the glass if they decide to go big.
I want to trust NC State in this one, but the Wolfpack have yet to prove themselves. Their gaudy statistics are the result of playing a much softer schedule, while Auburn is battle-tested at this point. Brown is a gritty player that will do a good job containing whichever player he matches up against, and the Tigers will pull away in the end. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Auburn close as a short favorite here.