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Hoops Preview: Clemson Faced #4-Seed Auburn for a Chance at the Sweet 16

Auburn and Bruce Pearl await the best Tigers.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Auburn vs Charleston Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson ruined a bunch of brackets last night when the consensus 12-5 upset didn’t materialize. I couldn’t be happier.

It’s weird. The talking heads spend a great deal of time talking about how March is a “guard dominated tournament” and that you “have to have guys that can go out and make shots when things get tight.” Well, Clemson has three experienced guards that fit that description, and they showed up last night and put on a shot making exhibition in a game the Tigers controlled throughout. Whenever New Mexico State made a run, one of the Tiger’s veteran guards made a play to keep them at arms distance. The pundits must have forgotten about them.

Now, on to Auburn:

Auburn So Far:

Auburn leads the tournament in players suspended before playing a game, assistant coaches under federal indictment, and head coaches with a “show cause” penalty on their resumes.

On the court, Auburn was the surprise of the SEC. They split the regular season SEC Championship with Tennessee and currently sit at 26-7. They have, however, gone 3-4 in their last 7 games, including a loss to South Carolina, which is pretty much inexcusable.

Auburn limped into the NCAA tournament, and C of C gave them everything they wanted in the first round. I like this match up.

PPG: 82.7 (18th Nationally)
RPG: 38.1 (60th)
APG: 14.3 (122nd)
PAPG: 72.8 (186th)

Just the Facts:

Who: Auburn “lesser” Tigers
When: 3/18/2018, 7:10 EST
Where: San Diego, CA
What Channel: TBS

Auburn Offense:

Bruce Pearl runs a 5-Out dribble drive and kick scheme.

He spreads the floor, his guards attack the rim off the dribble, and if the defense collapses, they look to kick the ball to three point shooters.

On paper, it’s a pretty simple scheme, but the problem is actually stopping it on the court.

This set results in a foul on South Carolina. You see the initial drive from the top, and the kick to the corner, followed by the drive from the corner and the kick to the opposite side. Finally, you get the reset with another drive from the top that draws a foul.

This is it, this is what Auburn does. They spread you out, attack the basket and look for you over help so they can kick the ball out for 3’s. They don’t pass the ball much, other than to kick out and drive again. It’s basically ISO drive after ISO drive.

They occasionally set high ball screens, and their center will occasionally sneak around on the baseline looking for the easy dump off for the easy dunk, but they normally stay with their 5-Out set.

If they are hitting their outside shots, they can light you up. If they are missing their outside shots (which they have been recently) they can really struggle to score.

How Clemson Matches Up:

I expect Clemson to initially help on the drives and try to recover to shooters. If Auburn is hitting 3’s, we’ll switch it up, plaster to their shooters, and make them hit contested layups.

Also, don’t be surprised if Brad breaks out the zone occasionally. Auburn does not adjust well on the fly.

Auburn Defense:

Auburn runs a high pressure, match up zone scheme.

While Pearl no longer picks up full court for 40 minutes like he did at UW Milwaukee and Tennessee, he will try and heat up opposing guards full court after made free throws and other full court dead ball opportunities.

I’m sure he still has his 1-2-1-1 press available if Auburn gets down or needs to change the pace of the game.

They will gamble and try to jump passing lanes. They will make you look silly if you make lazy passes around the perimeter.

Don’t watch the ball in the clip. Watch the players off the ball and you’ll get a good look at what Auburn wants to do with their zone. When one player enters the zone, he gets picked up, and then handed off when he leaves the zone.

Auburn pretty much switches every screen.

Note: It was hard to get a good shot of Auburn’s defense from this game because South Carolina’s offense is complete train wreck.

How Clemson Matches Up:

Clemson can find some easy looks if they are patient and move the ball. The match up zone gets really confusing if you cycle through a few sets and you end up with weird match ups in your favor.

Eli should also be able to eat if they switch baseline screens, because he’s going to end up matched up on a wing. When that happens, he needs to post and get the ball immediately.

The one thing Clemson can’t do is get lazy with their wing entry into the offense and their post entry passes because Auburn is more than willing to gamble on the steal.

Against FSU in Tallahassee, Clemson’s guards were lazy with their passes in the second half and ignited that FSU offense.

Consider Auburn a less athletic, but better coached, version of FSU. They want to get out and run because they tend to go on long droughts in the 12 court on offense.

Auburn Key Players:

Mustapha Heron: 6’5, 220 - PPG: 16.6, RPG: 5.5

Heron has to score for Auburn to win. If he puts up 20+, Auburn is tough to beat, if you hold him below his average, Auburn has a tough time winning.

Heron has a quick trigger and will shoot contested 3’s without a second thought. He’s only shooting 33% on the season, but he has the ability to get hot and put up a bunch of points in a short amount of time.

I like Skara on Heron, even if that messes up a few of our other match ups. If you can shut Heron down, you should beat Auburn, and Skara has the ability to frustrate Heron with his length and defensive savvy.

If you see the Heron/Skara match up, you’ll see Heron attempt to drive Skara, but I’m not overly worried about that because you still have Eli lurking on the baseline, ready to help out if needed.

Bryce Brown: 6’3, 200 - PPF: 16, 3 Point Attempts: 271

Bryce Brown is an irrational confidence shooter. If he misses 10 in a row, he won’t hesitate to launch number 11, because he is absolutely certain it is going to drop, and he’s usually right.

Brown has attempted an incredible 271 3 pointers this year, and is hitting at a 38% clip.

When Auburn drives and kicks, they are usually kicking to Brown, and the ball is almost always going to go up quickly. You can’t let Brown get good looks early, because if he gets hot, he tends to stay hot, and then he’s just going to rain down a bunch of ridiculous 3 pointers.

The good news is that Brown can shoot Auburn to a win, but he is also quite capable of shooting them to a loss. He has no conscience when it comes to taking bad shots, and will force things when frustrated.

Other than putting up 29 points on a completely undisciplined SCAR team, he has struggled of late.

His field goal % for each of his last 7 games are as follows:

@ USCe: 3-16 - .188%

vs Bama: 5-17 - .294%

@ UF: 2-8 - .25%

@ ARK: 4-13 - .308%

vs USCe: 9-15 - .60%

vs Bama: 4-12 - .33%

vs C of C: 3-11 - .273%

We’re going to see our irrationally confident shooter match up with their irrationally confident shooter. It’s going to be a Devoe vs Brown match up all night (with a little Reed thrown in as well), and I think Gabe is the better player.

Keys for Victory:

Make Auburn Work On Defense:

Auburn’s defense is designed to bait you into quick early shots. You can usually get a somewhat open look early in the clock, but if you cycle through your offense, you can usually get a wide open look late.

Patience is a blessing and a curse vs Auburn, because if you pass the ball around too much, or probe for the perfect shot, they will turn you over. You’ve got to be smart, and make sure you’re throwing crisp, hard passes every time, even on passes you normally take for granted.

Auburn will gamble for the steal instead of playing fundamental defense, and when they gamble, you’ve got to punish them.

Don’t Over-help on Defense:

Auburn’s offense is designed to hurt teams that rely on help side defense.

When a team drives the ball, the natural defensive progression is to pinch down from the wing and help. I would advise against this strategy.

Make Auburn beat you shooting contested 2’s instead of shooting open 3’s. Do your best to contain their driving, but when they do drive, don’t over help and leave shooters, because a majority of the time, Auburn is looking to drive and kick.


Ken Pom sees this game as a toss up. I think this is a good match up for the Clemson Tigers.

Clemson 80 Auburn 71