The Stretch 4: Get ready for 'a very physical' Auburn-Indiana game in Atlanta
The Tigers will have their grit tested in more ways than one Saturday against an old-school Hoosiers team that's won four straight.
PF Jaylin Williams (Steven Leonard/Auburn Tigers)
During the 1990s, Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling was famously known as “where the big boys play.”
That would be a fitting description for what will go down Saturday afternoon inside the NBA arena now attached to Turner’s CNN Center in downtown Atlanta.
For the third year in a row, Auburn basketball will spend the second Saturday in December at the Holiday Hoopsgiving event at State Farm Arena. After beating Nebraska two years ago and falling to Memphis last year, Auburn will face Indiana.
“This is going to be a very physical game on Saturday,” Bruce Pearl said Thursday.
The Tigers and the Hoosiers have only crossed paths once before in men’s basketball: 1987, when Indiana beat Auburn in a 107-90 second-round game on its way to an NCAA Tournament title.
This time around, Auburn will be the favored team — and it will have been the more successful program over the last several years. But Pearl whose first head coaching job was at Southern Indiana, knows what it means to face the Hoosiers.
“What an opportunity for us to be able to play one of the bluebloods in college basketball,” Pearl said. “And I say that with all due respect.”
Auburn will have had nearly a full week to solely prepare for this matchup since its road loss at the hands of Appalachian State. Indiana, meanwhile, is taking the longer trip to Georgia after winning at Michigan by two on Tuesday night.
The Hoosiers have won four straight after losing by 20 to a dominant UConn team, and they’ve done it with one of the most old-school approaches in modern college basketball.
They currently rank No. 346 in Division I basketball in 3-point percentage (25.8%) — but only two teams in the entire country take a lower rate of triples.
That lack of 3-point offense hasn’t stopped Indiana from stacking wins, and it’s done so with a sophomore front line of Kel’el Ware (17.1 PPG and 9.4 RPG) and Malik Reneau (14.8 PPG and 4.6 RPG) that is one of the most productive you’ll find anywhere in the sport right now.
“It’s probably going to be the best frontcourt we play all year,” fifth-year senior Jaylin Williams said. “Very talented guys. We go by our scout: We know what they’re good at, we know what they struggle at. We know how to defend them, and we’ve just got to play the right way and win the game.”
To get you prepared for Auburn’s neutral-site showdown with Indiana on Saturday afternoon at State Farm Arena (1 p.m. CT on ESPN2), here’s a special edition of The Stretch 4 here at The Observer.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Why Indiana is unlike any team Auburn will play all year
While Pearl worked his way up to the major college ranks from his days as an assistant coach and his successful run at Southern Indiana in Division II, Indiana head coach Mike Woodson is a different kind of basketball lifer.
Woodson was an All-American player at Indiana for the legendary Bob Knight, who passed away recently. He spent a decade playing in the NBA before becoming a coach there. His first NBA head coaching job was for the same Atlanta Hawks team that occupies State Farm Arena, and he spent years with the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers before taking over at Indiana in 2021.
Even though Woodson was known for more modern, spread-out offenses in the NBA, he’s gone back to some old-school roots at Indiana.