Midwest Region Second Round Prediction & Free Pick: #4 Kansas vs. #5 Auburn

Date | AuthorCorey Pabst

Last Updated: 2019-03-22

The Round of 32 nightcap in Salt Lake City, Saturday night, will feature two higher seeds that took care of business on Thursday; as the fourth-seeded Kansas Jayhawks catch a point-and-a-half against the Auburn Tigers.

Kansas put together one of the more dominant performances in the round of 64, in the rout of Northeastern – winning, 87-53. Junior C Dedric Lawson lead the way for the Jayhawks with a 25-point, 11 rebounding performance; in a game that was won more so on the defensive end.

The Jayhawks held Northeastern to 28% from the floor, and out-rebounded the Huskies by 18 – a display of superior athleticism. The talent disparity showed itself inside especially, where Kansas shot 68% on 39 attempts, while holding Northeastern to a feeble 35% inside.

Essentially, Kansas did what they should have done, given the difference in talent and athleticism; but in the Round of 32 they will no longer have the luxury of superior athletes against the champion of the SEC, Auburn.

Auburn had a much different experience in the Round of 64 than did Kansas; for the Tigers went down-to-the-wire with New Mexico State, pulling out a, 78-77, win. Granted, Auburn was up, 67-54, with just over seven minutes left in the game, and was looking like they were going to run away with it, before letting the Aggies back in it; but it was a close call nonetheless.

It was the big three splitting the work for the Tigers: with Jared Harper putting up 17, in a 50% effort from beyond the arc, Chuma Okeke going for 13, and Bryce Brown for 12. Auburn essentially won the game at the three-point line, as they normally do, hitting 39% on 31 attempts, while holding NMST to 28% on 25 attempts.

The underlying statistics were mostly even: with Auburn getting up six more attempts overall, but NMST getting to the line six more times, and NMST dominating the glass by 15 rebounds, but Auburn winning the turnover battle by six. The floor game would’ve suggested an Aggie win, but three-point percentage was the difference; and as the Tigers move on to Kansas, their success from beyond the arc while likely tell the story once again.

Three-point percentage will likely predict the outcome for the Auburn offense (8th) because it is one of the more three-point reliant teams in the entire country (7th). It is with good reason that they are, for as a team, the Tigers shoot 38% from outside (23rd), and their top three offensive weapons, Harper (38%), Brown (40%), and Okeke (38%) can each stroke from beyond the arc.

In considering the matchup with the Kansas defense (13th), it may be a good one; for if the Jayhawks have one weakness on defense, it has been on the perimeter (104th) – where they allow 36% of their overall points (42nd). Auburn should also enjoy an advantage on the offensive glass (55th), with Kansas a slightly below average team on the defensive boards (170th). These are two factors that may not be completely considered in the current number.

Opposite of the Auburn O, the Kansas offense (29th) is one more likely to look inside (62nd) – where they shoot 53% percent and feature the services of one of the better players in the nation, Dedric Lawson.

The Auburn defense (44th), while at an overall disadvantage statistically, may find some success against Kansas; as a unit that allows a very small percentage of the overall points scored against inside (330th).

Where Auburn has been most prone to giving it up is on the perimeter (52nd) – having allowed opposing teams to shoot 35% on the year (234th). And while Kansas is slight above average percentage-wise from outside (131st), the Jayhawks only score 29% of their points from three (258th). If Kansas does attack the perimeter, they should could find success against Auburn’s perimeter D (234th); but whether or not they will is the question.

Turnovers will be another key stat to consider, as Auburn is the number one team in the nation in creating them. Kansas is a young team (331st) that has been below average as far as taking care of the ball (192nd). If Auburn wins: turnovers, the offensive glass, and shoots a higher percentage from three, than does Kansas, chances are very high that Auburn moves on to the Sweet Sixteen.

Pick: Auburn -1.5 -110

This could be the game where Kansas’s lack of depth finally catches up to it, in what could be a fast-paced affair; with Auburn ranking 60th in pace, and Kansas ranking 27th – played at high altitude to boot.

Auburn is the much more experienced team (36th to 331st); and in a game that is basically a Pick ‘Em, I’ll take the experience more often than not. They should be able to rely on this experience to exploit their potential matchup advantages outlined above: their three-point prowess vs. Kansas Perimeter D, Offensive Rebounding, and their relatively small distribution of points allowed inside on defense.

It was a solid coaching job for Bill Self – getting a depleted team to the second round of the tourney – but I think the bus stops here. This is perhaps the best Auburn team in school history, and the best team, statistically, that Bruce Pearl has ever had; as a coach that has had his share of Sweet Sixteen appearances in Tennessee.

Kansas will certainly not go down without a fight, but as the SEC Champion, and arguably the best team in school history, it’s time for Auburn to get back to a place where they haven’t been since 2003 – The Sweet Sixteen.

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