Auburn Eyes SEC Title, While Florida Needs Resume-Boosting Upset

Matthew Jordan

Friday, February 23, 2018 5:19 PM UTC

Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 5:19 PM UTC

Could be a historic night for the Auburn basketball team Saturday (8:30 ET) as the No. 12 Tigers look to clinch the SEC regular-season title at struggling Florida.

No. 12 Auburn Tigers (23-4, 18-7 ATS) at Florida Gators (17-10, 12-13 ATS)Free NCAAB Pick: FloridaBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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No SEC games bigger than this one Saturday as No. 12 Auburn visits Florida at 8:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network in the only scheduled meeting between the schools.

This has been a very one-sided rivalry of late, but that’s because Florida is good every year and Auburn usually isn’t in basketball – but Bruce Pearl is changing that. Last year, the Gators scored a season high in points in winning 114-95 at Auburn in their only meeting. When you shoot 56 percent from the field, hit 11 of 19 3-pointers and make 37 of 42 free throws like UF did that day, you are going to beat almost anyone. That was Florida’s 10th straight win in the series and ninth in a row at Auburn.

In fact, Auburn has just a single victory against Florida this century. That was in the 2009 SEC Tournament.

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1️⃣9️⃣ point home win over Alabama.

Nice birthday present for Sir Charles. #WarEagle

— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) February 22, 2018

War Eagle! Rare Football/Basketball Double?

This could be a tremendous year for the Auburn athletic department. The football team upset Alabama in the Iron Bowl and reached the SEC Championship Game, albeit losing a chance to reach the College Football Playoff by falling to Georgia.

The men’s basketball team has won just two SEC regular-season titles: in 1960 and 1999. It would clinch a third Saturday with either a win or Tennessee loss earlier in the day at Ole Miss, a game the No. 19 Vols should win as solid road NCAA basketball betting favorites. UT is two games back of Auburn in the SEC and each school has just two regular-season games remaining after Saturday. Auburn won at Tennessee on Jan. 2 in the only meeting, 94-84.

Frankly, the schedule is why it’s hard to tell how good Auburn might be. The Tigers played an obscenely easy non-conference schedule – best win over Middle Tennessee – and have faced only two teams ranked at the time overall, Tennessee and Arkansas. The SEC is really down this year with Kentucky’s fall. This will be the first season since 2008-09 that neither Kentucky nor Florida earned a share of the regular-season title.

This could set up as somewhat of a letdown game for Auburn as it got payback on rival Alabama on Wednesday in a 90-71 win (with alum Charles Barkley in attendance). That was the Tigers’ first game since losing sophomore forward/center Anfernee McLemore to a season-ending injury. That’s a big injury because, pardon the pun, Auburn has such a small lineup. The 6-foot-7 McLemore was about the only defensive rim presence the team had, leading the SEC in blocks (2.7 per game). He also averaged 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in about 20 minutes per game.

Freshman forward Chuma Okeke saw a huge jump in playing time vs. the Tide and responded with career highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds. Auburn played that game without sophomore guard and second-leading scorer Mustapha Heron due to the flu, but he’ll return Saturday. Leading scorer Bryce Brown still isn’t 100 percent as he’s dealing with shoulder and foot injuries but is playing.

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Arrive early.
New projection 🔥 tomorrow.

Tip-off vs. @AuburnMBB 8:30 PM #OneTeam

— Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) February 23, 2018

Florida has played its way on the NCAA Tournament bubble and perhaps the wrong side of it on its second-three game losing streak of the season, so the Gators need this one with tough matchups at Alabama and vs. Kentucky to close the regular season.

UF had no right losing last Wednesday at home to Georgia or last Saturday at Vanderbilt. Wednesday’s 62-57 loss at Tennessee is understandable. Junior guard KeVaughn Allen, a preseason All-SEC pick, went scoreless for the first time this season in that one. His numbers are way down across the board from last season. Allen has been held under double digits in five of the past seven games. Florida has reached 70 points in just three of its last 10 SEC games partly due to Allen. Auburn leads the conference in scoring.

Purely from a numbers standpoint, Auburn should win this game – KenPom predicts a 79-78 victory. However, might the Tigers be a bit flat off a huge home win like they were last Saturday in a loss at South Carolina? I think so. Plus, Florida must play with some desperation to save its sagging NCAA tourney hopes. Take the Gators on Saturday's NCAAB pick.

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