After a nail-biting win against No. 10 USC in the First Round, Miami finds themselves pitted against one of the NCAA’s elite; No. 2 Auburn. While this matchup may look bad for the ‘Canes on paper, this game is definitely winnable. How can they get it done?
The Tigers get most of their production from four players. Forwards Jabari Smith Jr. (6’10, 220) and Walker Kessler (7’1, 245) and guards K.D. Johnson (6’0, 204) and Wendell Green Jr (5’11, 175). Smith Jr. averages
The 27-5 Tigers spent a few weeks at No. 1 on the AP Poll, though they finished at No. 8 after an SEC Tournament loss to Texas A&M. It must be mentioned that three of Auburn’s five losses came in a five game span from from Feb. 8 to Feb. 26, all taking place on the road for the Tigers.
Age and Experience a Key Advantage for ‘Canes
One of the ‘Canes main advantages over the dominant Tigers comes from age and experience. Miami’s Charlie Moore (24), Kam McGusty (24), Sam Waardenburg (23), Jordan Miller (22) and Isaiah Wong (21) are all more experienced and older, coming in with an average age of 22.8 years old. In terms of experience, Miami’s starting five (individually) has played a combined 604 games.
Contrary, Auburn’s Smith Jr. (18), Green (19), Johnson (20), Kessler (20) and Allen Flanigan (20) are all on the younger side, possessing an average age of 19.4 years old. In their young careers, the Auburn five have played a total of just 285 games combined.
A clear advantage for Miami in terms of age and experience, having three years (on average) and 319 games on the young Tigers.
‘Canes Three Ball Efficiency is Pivotal
The three-ball is where the ‘Canes only chance to dethrone the interior-dominant Tigers lies. They need to do the exact opposite of what they did against USC: shoot the three-ball well. Miami shot a season-worst 7.1% from three against the Trojans, hitting just 1-14 shots from beyond the arc. They can’t do that again if they want to beat one of the best teams in the country.
Outside of Smith (.428%) and Jasper (.382%), Auburn struggles to shoot the long ball. The Tigers shot 32% from behind the arc as a team during the regular season, but individually is where they struggled. Johnson shoots .294%, Kessler shoots .204%, Cambridge shoots .232% and Green shoots .320% from deep.
In a complete opposite of the Tigers, every player in the ‘Canes starting five shoots at least .306 from deep, with Moore (.371%), McGusty (.365%), Wong (.306%), Waardenburg (41.9%) and Miller (.306%) all spacing the floor efficiently. If Miami is on like they have the potential to be, this can be a game that the ‘Canes can find themselves in.
Charlie Moore had himself a night last night, scoring a season-high 20 points.— Canes Hoops (@CanesHoops) November 23, 2021
Take a look at all five of his three-pointers ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/qb1gMi4eLU
The ‘Canes Must Contain Smith Jr. and Kessler
The All-SEC First Team duo of Smith Jr. and Kessler are going to have the ‘Canes hands full.
The ‘Canes are going to have to force someone other than Smith Jr. to beat them on the offensive side of the ball. The likely top draft selection was a man on a mission this year, putting up 17.1 points per game on 43.7/42.8/81.6 splits, in addition to averaging a block and steal per game. If the ‘Canes can force Auburn’s inefficient guards to take a bigger number of shots than usual, that will be a recipe for success for Miami.
Kessler was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year, averaging an unbelievable 4.6 blocks per game. Auburn typically runs a seven-man rotation, but they only play two bigs. How can they actually contain a 6’10 and 7’1 duo? Get them off of the court. If they can get Smith and Kessler in foul trouble, it could do big things for the ‘Canes.
If they can’t get them in foul trouble, Waardenburg and Miller are going to have to have the games of their lives to give the ‘Canes a chance against the big lineup of Smith and Kessler. That will be difficult for Waardenburg to one-up considering he had four blocks in just the first half vs. USC.
Can the ‘Canes Get it Done?
Possibly, but the height of Auburn’s bigs are frightening for the small-ball ‘Canes. To be fair, Miami just beat a team that had a significant height advantage over them in USC. If the ‘Canes need to hit their threes, force someone other than Smith Jr. to beat them and play winning basketball like they’ve played all season, Miami can definitely make their way to the Sweet Sixteen.