Yes, guard play will either make or break Auburn's NCAA Tournament chances
Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler are game-changing All-American talents. But the numbers show the story will ultimately be written by the backcourt.
SG K.D. Johnson (Jacob Taylor/Auburn Athletics)
If you’ve consumed basically any pre-NCAA Tournament coverage this week, you’ve heard the same thing whenever Auburn is mentioned.
Go back to the actual Selection Show, when it was officially revealed that Auburn was the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region.
“They are a tough number,” Clark Kellogg said. “The guard play is going to be the key for them. It’s been inconsistent. They’ve got everything they need to be a championship team, but they’ve got to find a better rhythm in that backcourt play.”
Reading a full field breakdown before setting your bracket? CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander wrote this week that “Auburn's guard play is an opera” and “Wendell Green Jr. and K.D. Johnson can giveth just as they can taketh away.”
Guard play is fresh on everyone’s mind when it comes to Auburn basketball. When the Tigers were immediately bounced out of the SEC Tournament in the quarterfinals by Texas A&M last Friday, their three guards went a combined 7-34 from the field with just four assists.
“They don't shoot the three well, and they struggle with guard play,” ESPN’s LaPhonso Ellis said over the weekend. “We saw that play itself out. Wendell Green hit some huge shots down the stretch (vs. Texas A&M) that helped them keep it close, but I just don't trust their backcourt. K.D. Johnson: 0-for-14 in that game."
Auburn is an elite team. It was the No. 5 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. It won the outright title in the second-toughest conference in college basketball during the regular season. The Tigers have won 84.4% of their games this season, which is the seventh-best winning percentage in the country and the second-best among power-conference teams.
The foundation of that success is in the frontcourt. Jabari Smith is a potential No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick. Walker Kessler might be the best defensive player in America. Both have been named All-Americans, making them the first pair of teammates to do so at Auburn since Chris Porter and Doc Robinson in 1999.
But this is March. While elite frontcourt play can do a ton, the old saying has always been that it takes great guards to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. And, in the case of this Auburn team, the numbers back that up.