The Stretch 4: Can Johni Broome have another big game vs. some familiar foes?
Auburn's big man had a quiet game last time out, but he's had some huge lines in past meetings with LSU's new head coach and star center.
C Johni Broome and SF Allen Flanigan (Steven Leonard/Auburn Athletics)
In this day and age of college basketball, plenty of teams look very different from season to season.
Take Auburn, for example. Last season, the Tigers ran their backcourt through three transfers — Wendell Green Jr., Zep Jasper and K.D. Johnson — and their All-American frontcourt of Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler was also made up of newcomers.
Other SEC programs have taken roster turnover to the extreme, whether it’s the 5-star reloads that always happen at Kentucky or the transfer and recruit combo approach at Arkansas.
But LSU? Yeah, LSU is different.
After Will Wade was removed as LSU’s head coach when the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations finally came to town, the program experienced a major talent exodus. (Yohan Traore, now at Auburn, was part of that.) Matt McMahon, who was an excellent head coach at Murray State, had to practically rebuild a roster from scratch.
LSU has two returning players on its roster: Justice Williams and Mwani Wilkinson. They are No. 8 and No. 9 in the rotation, averaging 13 minutes per night. The top seven are all brand-new. Among power-conference teams, only the smoldering husk of the Georgetown program has a lower percentage of minutes continuity from last season to this season.
However, unlike a lot of other teams that will cross paths with McMahon’s Bayou Bengals this season, Auburn should be familiar with what it’s going to get Wednesday night in Baton Rouge.
“Obviously there's great familiarity between both of these programs, having played Murray State three times in the last four years or so,” Bruce Pearl said Tuesday. “(McMahon) does a great job, they run a lot of the same actions — as do we.”
Pearl’s Auburn went against McMahon’s Murray State during the 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2021-22 seasons, with the Tigers winning all three matchups.
The first home-and-home set was marked by the presence of future NBA superstar Ja Morant and decided by a combined seven points. Then, last season, the Tigers held the Racers to one of their lowest offensive outputs of an NCAA Tournament campaign in a 71-58 victory on the Plains.
Pearl is familiar with McMahon and his work, and he knows that LSU’s 1-4 start in SEC play might be deceiving. The Bayou Bengals were, at one point, 12-1 with a massive home win against Arkansas to their name.
“Then they go to Kentucky, they go to Texas A&M, they go to Alabama — they lose those three games,” Pearl said. “Well, almost everybody's going to lose to those places and really struggle. They got a great home win against Arkansas, a competitive loss at home to Florida — you know, you've got to win 'em at home. You can't just judge them by their record in league play. … They’re 9-1 at home.”
So this won’t be the typical first SEC meeting between Pearl and one of the up-and-coming coaches that are now in the league. And it’ll carry even more familiarity when you look at the matchup between these two teams of Tigers’ top big men.
For more on that showdown, the latest on the small forward situation with Chris Moore’s injury and a lot more on all things Auburn basketball, here’s the latest edition of The Stretch 4.
C Johni Broome (Steven Leonard/Auburn Athletics)
Johni Broome vs. K.J. Williams
Wednesday night’s game in Baton Rouge will feature two of the best centers in the SEC so far this season. They’re two bigs who do things in very different ways — and they’ve already crossed paths a few times.
K.J. Williams is averaging 18 points and 7.2 rebounds per game for LSU after transferring over with McMahon from Murray State. (LSU starting point guard Justice Hill and small forward Trae Hannibal also came with McMahon.)
The 6-foot-10 Williams is a stretch 5, something that Pearl said “makes every offense better.” He’s shooting a red-hot 45.1% from deep and has hit multiple 3-pointers in seven out of his last 10 games.
“K.J. Williams is one of the best players in the league,” Pearl said. “He and Johni Broome both committed from the OVC, so it's going to be an interesting matchup. They played against each other a lot. They're both having great years for their respective teams. Both players are important to their teams.”
Williams is a different type of matchup for Auburn in the frontcourt, just like LSU is a different type of matchup altogether.
After playing three of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country right in a row, LSU is hitting triples at a solid 34.9% clip, which ranks inside the top 125 nationally. Adam Miller, a transfer 2 guard from Illinois who sat out last season with a torn ACL but stayed at LSU, attempts 7.4 shots from deep per game and hits a third of them. But Williams is the more efficient weapon from the outside.
“Johni and us (bigs), even if we switch, we better be more connected to him more so than the bigs we‘ve played in the past,” Jaylin Williams said Tuesday. “Because most haven’t been able to shoot from the arc, especially at a clip like he’s shooting. … And they are really looking for him to shoot late in the clock, so pin him down and be more sticking to him.
“If we don’t let him hit three or four threes, then we should be fine.”
Williams will definitely challenge an Auburn 3-point defense that currently sits at No. 3 in the country at 25.4%. And the orange-and-blue Tigers will counter with Broome, who is looking to bounce back from a rare quiet game against Mississippi State.
Broome faced McMahon and Williams four different times at Morehead State. And he was quite successful in all four.