Before Auburn plays JSU in the NCAA Tournament, let's go back to the very beginning
Auburn is about to face a small-conference team that loves to shoot 3s while operating at a methodical pace. That might sound familiar.
PF Jabari Smith (Jacob Taylor/Auburn Athletics)
When you’re one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament like Auburn, the first-round matchup is unlike anything you’ve experienced in a while.
Auburn’s last 20 games have been 18 regular-season contests in an absolute meat-grinder of an SEC slate — which the Tigers won outright with a 15-3 record — plus a random non-conference matchup against Oklahoma and a league tournament quarterfinal against a red-hot Texas A&M team.
It’s been almost three months since Auburn has played a team that wasn’t from a power conference. And the game immediately before its SEC opener was against Murray State, a team that went 30-2 in the regular season and landed a 7 seed out of a traditional one-bid conference.
Now Auburn has to face Jacksonville State, a 16.5-point underdog that only got into the NCAA Tournament because the conference tournament champion was ineligible.
Even the cellar-dwellers of the SEC — hello, Georgia — aren’t really comparable to the Gamecocks, who don’t recruit at the same level and play much different competition to get a shot at the Big Dance.
But what do we know about Jacksonville State? The first thing that jumps out about the Gamecocks is their offensive style. According to KenPom, Jacksonville State’s average possession length on offense is 19 seconds, which ranks 323rd out of 358 Division I basketball teams this season.
The Gamecocks also let it fly from beyond the arc. They shoot 3-pointers 42.3% of the time, which ranks No. 63 nationally. (Auburn, which has been accused of shooting the triple too often this season, is No. 121 at 39.9%.) But the Gamecocks are highly efficient in that area, hitting 38.2% of their attempts against Division I competition this season for a top-10 finish in the regular season.
Jacksonville State’s slower-paced style also helps out its efficiency from inside the arc. The Gamecocks hit 51.8% of their 2-point shots, which ranks in the top 100 nationally. They share the ball well, too, getting assists on 53.9% of their made field goals for a top-100 assist rate nationally.
But things can be feast or famine on offense for Ray Harper’s team. Jacksonville State turns the ball over on an even 20% of its possessions, which ranks No. 282 nationally. The Gamecocks are in the bottom third of college basketball in both steal and non-steal turnover percentage on offense.
It’s become a decent measuring stick of Jacksonville State’s success this season, too. Jacksonville State has turned the ball over 20% of the time in 15 contests this season, going 7-8 in those games. When it’s below 20%, the Gamecocks are 14-2.
The turnover battle is especially important for Jacksonville State because of its own defense. The Gamecocks only force turnovers on 17.1% of their defensive trips, which ranks No. 258 nationally. This is not a team that wants to get out and run via its defense — it wants to secure the rebound and work the ball up the floor.
What Auburn has in its crosshairs this weekend is a small-conference team that plays extremely slow, shoots quite efficiently off well-drilled ball movement, gets in trouble with turnovers and runs a complementary defensive style to match.
If only Bruce Pearl’s squad played a team like that earlier this season.