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March Madness: Why Auburn wins National Championship ... and why they won't

Mar 29, 2019; Kansas City, MO, United States; Auburn Tigers forward Danjel Purifoy (3) celebrates with teammates against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second half in the semifinals of the midwest regional of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The field of teams in the NCAA Tournament has been whittled down to four and each has the opportunity to cut down the championship nets in Minneapolis.

These are the reasons why the Auburn Tigers could win the title…and why they won’t.

WHY AUBURN WILL WIN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

1. Their Blue Blood Hit List

The Tigers have already taken out three of the NCAA’s most storied programs in Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky. There’s nobody in the remaining field that can intimidate them.

2. The Dynamic Duo

Guards Bryce Brown and Jared Harper have been the team’s backbone all season – more so in the tournament. In four tourney games, Brown has scored 73 points and Harper has scored 70 points, hit 18-of-20 free throws and added 26 dimes. When things get critical, they have a 1-2 punch to lean on.

3. The Streak

When the Tigers got blown out by Kentucky 80-53 on Feb. 23, their record was 18-9 and 7-7 in the SEC. Since then, they’ve won 12 straight – beating Tennessee twice, avenging Kentucky and taking out UNC. They’re on a roll and confidence can’t be underestimated on the big stage.

4. Defending the Three

Not only do Auburn opponents attempt less 3-point shots, they make far fewer. In four tournament games, opponents have made just 25 of 93 long distance calls (26.9 percent). If you dominate the number of attempts (much less makes) from 3-point land, you create a mismatch that is hard to overcome.

5. Veterans Day

Auburn isn’t a “one-and-done” school. Of their top nine players, three are seniors (Brown, Malik Dunbar and Horace Spencer) and six are juniors (Harper, Anfernee McLemore, Danjel Purifoy, Austin Wiley, Samir Doughty and J’Von McCormick). There isn’t much they haven’t seen.

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

WHY AUBURN WON’T WIN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

1. No Okeke

The loss of Okeke can’t be underestimated. He was far and away Auburn’s most dominant rebounding presence and, without him, the Tigers will struggle to make up for that loss, especially when opponents have been given time to game plan Auburn without him.

2. Dependency on the Three

Of their 249 shots the Tigers have taken in the tournament, 121 of them (49 percent) have come from behind the 3-point line. Teams that live by the three are known to die by the three if they have one off night in the tournament.

3. Round Mound of Rebound

Unlike their most famous alum/cheerleader Charles Barkley, the Tigers have been out-rebounded in every game of the tournament – a disparity of 157-124. Without Okeke, their top rebounder, that could be a problem in a close game.

4. Earning Your Stripes

Auburn entered the tournament with a free throw percentage of 71.5 percent. In the tournament, they’ve made just 67.5 percent of their free throws (52 of 77). In tight games, critical misses from the charity stripe could be a death knell.

5. Never Been There, Never Done That

This is the first trip to the Final Four in program history. Auburn has never played basketball in a football stadium (they will on Saturday) and the sight lines can’t be replicated in practice or through experience. Toomer’s Corner can’t roll the TP for a new experience.


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