What to Expect: Indiana vs. Auburn
Indiana returns to action Saturday afternoon against Auburn at the State Farm Center in Atlanta.
The contest, part of the Holiday Hoopsgiving doubleheader, will tip at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
At 7-1 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play, Indiana is off to a successful start to the 2023-24 season. The Hoosiers now have two straight marquee non-conference games to earn a non-conference win that will stand out on the resume.
Up first is a matchup against Auburn, a current top 20 team in KenPom and Bart Torvik, on a neutral floor in Atlanta. The Tigers, led by Bruce Pearl, are 5-2 with losses to Baylor and Appalachian State.
MEET THE TIGERS
There’s no secret on what to expect from a Pearl-led basketball team. Auburn will bring defensive pressure and pace and use its depth to wear its opponent down over 40 minutes. The Indiana backcourt, which Gabe Cupps and Trey Galloway have led in the absence of Xavier Johnson, will be tested.
Auburn is going 10 deep, with 10 players averaging between 14.8 and 23.5 minutes per game. From a production standpoint, the headliner is fourth-year big man Johni Broome. The Plant City, Florida native began his career at Morehead State, where he played two seasons before transferring to play for the Tigers.
The 6-foot-10 center averages 18.3 points and 9.1 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game. At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, has the 11th highest usage rate in the country. He struggles with fouls (5.4 per 40 minutes), but the Tigers have a capable backup in Dylan Cardwell, who can step in. Cardwell is a 6-foot-11, 255-pound senior who finishes close to 67 percent of his 2s in limited attempts (18).
Freshman Aden Holloway, a 6-foot-1 point guard who was a top 20 player in the 2023 recruiting class, leads the backcourt. Holloway only shoots 25.9 percent on 2s but is second in scoring at 10.6 points per game. Through seven games, Holloway has 23 assists to just nine turnovers, an excellent ratio for a newcomer.
Sophomore guard Tre Donaldson has started three of the first seven games and has a team-high 24 assists. The 6-foot-3 native of Tallahassee, Florida is shooting 50 percent from the field, 43.8 percent from 3 and averages seven points per game.
FIU transfer Denver Jones is another capable 3-point shooter for the Tigers who has knocked in eight triples over the first seven games. He’s an excellent free throw shooter (88.2 percent) but is coming off his worst game of the season. Jones was scoreless in 13 minutes in a five-point loss at Appalachian State on Dec. 3.
Guard K.D. Johnson began his career at Georgia but is now in his third season as a member of the Auburn backcourt. The 6-foot guard can sometimes be shaky with his decision-making but is an impactful defender.
Chris Moore has started all seven games at the three, with Chad Baker-Mazara coming off the bench for the Tigers. Moore is a 6-foot-6 senior who doesn’t look to take many shots. He’s attempted just 16 shots in seven games in total. Baker-Mazara, however, brings offense when he comes into the game. Auburn is the third school for Baker-Mazara, who began his career at Duquesne and then played two seasons ago at San Diego State. He was a career 41 percent 3-point shooter entering the season but is just 4-for-17 through seven games.
Fifth-year senior Jaylin Williams starts at the four, with Chaney Johnson occupying most of the backup minutes. The 6-foot-8 Williams is grabbing 5.7 rebounds per game, good for second on the roster, and is fourth in scoring at 7.7 points per game. Johnson is a 6-foot-7 JUCO transfer who is a good rebounder but is struggling to finish. He’s shooting just 40.6 percent from the field.
All stats via KenPom.com and are updated through Wednesday’s games.
Auburn has been a poor 3-point shooting team through seven games, but still has an elite offense. The Tigers are third in the country in percentage of field goals assisted (67.7) and in the top 80 in 2-point field goal percentage (53.4).
Pearl’s teams attack the offensive glass relentlessly. His teams have ranked in the top 50 in offensive rebounding percentage the last four seasons and are currently 17th. Indiana has struggled at times on the defensive glass and will need to have its best rebounding performance of the season to find success on Saturday.
Like Indiana, Auburn gets to the line a ton – 33rd nationally in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) – but unlike the Hoosiers, it sends its opponents to the free throw line a lot. Auburn has only outscored its opponents by two points this season. Indiana’s advantage from the line is 36 points, or an average of 4.5 points per game.
The Tigers are stingy defensively, as their opponents shoot a dismal 42.7 percent on 2s. With a deep rotation, Auburn is consistently aggressive and will contest shots relentlessly while overplaying passing lanes. Valuing the ball, not getting sped up and getting to the right spots in the halfcourt is pivotal for Indiana.
WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO
The KenPom projection is Auburn by seven with just a 27 percent chance of an IU victory. That number might seem low, but Indiana’s numbers in the computer rankings remain pedestrian due to the close calls against inferior competition to begin the season.
This is a game where Indiana could use the speed and athleticism of Xavier Johnson, who has now missed the last two games. There’s no timetable for Johnson’s return, so the expectation is that he’ll remain sidelined until he appears in uniform.
The Broome vs. Ware matchup will be important, but both Ware and Malik Reneau will need to be sharp with their passes against the pressure Auburn is sure to bring on post-up situations. Auburn hasn’t made a high volume of 3s to this point – just under seven per game – but has still connected on 23 more this season than the Hoosiers. Indiana must be able to stick in some timely perimeter shots to keep Auburn honest and from totally collapsing on the paint defensively.
The trio of Ware, Reneau and Mackenzie Mgbako has been excellent in recent games, but Indiana needs more from its guards to continue winning.
Filed to: Auburn Tigers