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Final Four Preview the First: Auburn/Virginia

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Villanova vs Oklahoma
Finally, a sufficiently august opponent for Mr. Jefferson’s institution
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re wondering about the picture, a certain member of the editorial staff threatened to “shit on your porch” if I used a picture of the sitting Auburn coach. But we also don’t want to appear to endorse anything as close to Boball as what Virginia does, so Charles Barkley seems like a decent (if completely uninformed when CBS conscripts him into college coverage) compromise, and there are only 2 pictures of him at our disposal, and this explanation wouldn’t fit in the picture caption, so there you go.

Anyway. Auburn and Virginia. Auburn enters the Final Four as perhaps the hottest team in the country. After a lofty preseason ranking, they stumbled here and there - I would say it’s odd for a team of this caliber to get swept by Ole Miss, but Michigan State got swept by Indiana. Auburn enters this game on a 12-win roll. They beat Tennessee twice, to finish both the regular season and SEC Tournament, to move to 26-9...and got royally screwed with a 5-seed.

They’ve made lemonade, though, and easily dispatched the most prestigious opponents to get here, powering through Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky after escaping New Mexico State in the first round. Although they recently lost F Chuma Okeke to a torn ACL, they played inspired without him to down Kentucky in overtime. Their strength bends to the offense (#6 KenPom), but they aren’t bad defensively either (#38). Auburn’s tempo is middle of the road, which is probably not a bad thing, as most teams that try to speed Virginia up to get them out of their comfort zone fail to do so. Per KenPom, Auburn did play a top-20 schedule, so a few more losses are to be expected.

Virginia, meanwhile, spent most of the season in the top five notwithstanding last year’s historic embarrassment at the hands of UMBC. They rattled off 16 straight wins to start the season before losing to Duke on the road; in fact, of their three losses, two came to the Blue Devils (the last was to Florida State in the ACC Tournament).

With their extremely methodical pace - right around 59 possessions per game, good for #353 in the country - KenPom and most statistical models love the Cavaliers; they are KenPom’s #1 overall, and the only team in the country to rank top-5 in both offensive (#2) and defensive (#5) efficiency. About the only drawback in their profile is that they didn’t really challenge themselves in the nonconference on paper, though wins over Wisconsin, Maryland and VCU are a pretty good slate. They have more offensive options than you probably think, but their go-to Guy is just that, and if there’s a more miscast Duke player wandering the courts of college basketball today, we haven’t seen him. No, not even Brad Davison. He’s not your Guy, friend.

If you want a prediction, tempo is probably a pretty good indicator. Even though their season-long numbers don’t indicate it, Auburn is at their best flying around in transition. It’s much easier, however, to slow a game down than it is to speed it up against your opponent’s will. If Auburn can maintain their hot three-point shooting, they’ll survive the lower number of possessions likely to occur here. If not, Virginia’s careful offense will limit Auburn’s opportunities to get easy points on the run.

(1) Virginia vs (5) Auburn

Saturday, April 6

6:09 pm EST // CBS // UVA -5.5 // O/U 130.5

Poll

Make your bet:

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    UVA covers
    (6 votes)
  • 42%
    Auburn, points
    (6 votes)
  • 14%
    Auburn straight up
    (2 votes)
14 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Over/under?

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    Under 130.5
    (7 votes)
  • 12%
    AustinpowersIalsoliketolivedangerously.gif
    (1 vote)
8 votes total Vote Now