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Baylor-Auburn: Three Keys, How to Watch and Prediction

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NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Baylor Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2 Baylor (15-0, 8-0) takes on Auburn (10-7, 4-5) in the Big 12-SEC Challenge at 3:00 today at the Ferrell Center. The game airs on ESPN.

Baylor’s a 14 point favorite on most sports books now, which is higher than the opening line of 13.

KenPom has Baylor by 16, but Auburn’s only had their 5-star freshman point guard, Sharife Cooper, for six games. In the six games he’s played, Auburn is ranked No. 19 in adjusted efficiency, per Bart-Torvik.

Three Keys:

1) Make Sharife Cooper’s life miserable- Cooper is a likely lottery pick. In the six games he’s played, Auburn’s offense has been so much better. He leads the SEC in usage rate and assist rate. He’s crafty at drawing fouls too.

Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler can’t let him get to the hoop and make plays. He’s only hit 5-of-27 triples, so they should make him prove he can hit those.

2) Run guys off the line- Bruce Pearl teams love to shoot threes. This one isn’t different; the tigers rank 18th nationally in percent of shots beyond the arc. With the overall talent differential that favors the Bears, Baylor should also minimize the opportunity for Auburn to go insane from three.

3) Pull away- Auburn is good, but they don’t strike me as a team that is likely to come back from a major deficit. With Cooper they’re capable—if Baylor messes around and keeps this game close—of winning the last eight minutes. The Bears don’t want to play like they did in Ames or Stillwater. They easily won both, and they could win in that situation too, but when you ask, “What’s the low probability event where Auburn wins?” sticking close and then letting Cooper take over late is probably it.

Prediction:

I’m open to the idea that Mitchell will be inspired to play his old team, and Butler will also play well with the draft hype around Cooper. Add in that Auburn was not good before Cooper, and maybe this team is a bit inflated in a small sample size.

But I think Cooper is excellent, and Auburn will play tough. The Bears are better, but—and I don’t gamble—I’d take Auburn to cover. I’ll go Baylor 82-74.