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No. 20 Baylor Bears vs Auburn Tigers

Two top teams square off in Sioux Falls to open the season

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 20 Baylor Bears will face off against the Auburn Tigers in the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota tonight for an 8pm CT tip on ESPN’s first men’s basketball broadcast of the season.

Both teams are in KenPom’s top twenty with balanced projections on offense and defense. Like the Bears, Auburn features a lot of new faces this season. The 6-4 transfer guard Denver Jones averaged 20+ points per game last season for FIU, Chad Baker-Mazara gives them more length and physicality on the wing in a similar role to Jalen Bridges on Baylor, and Aden Holloway is a knock-down freshman guard that Baylor can’t afford to lose on the perimeter.

The big names for Bruce Pearls Tigers should be Johni Broome (14 points, 8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks) and Jaylin Williams (11 points, 4.7 rebounds). That front court duo will present challenges for Baylor offensively. The rangy Williams will attempt to disrupt a lot of passing lanes while the big 6-10 Broome hangs in the paint.

Under Pearl, Auburn likes to press and gamble on defense. That allows them to play more in transition where their athleticism can take over the game. If Baylor is going to win, RayJ Dennis and Miro Little will need to take care of the ball and read where the help is coming from. There won’t be many straight-line drives available with Broome in the paint. The Bears will need to get penetration, touch the paint, and spray out to shooters for find a cutter to backdoor the shot blocker. Watch for some nice drop-off passes to Josh Ojianwuna, Yves Missi, and Bridges.

The Bears’ biggest advantage will be on the perimeter. Shooters like Ja’Kobe Walter, Jayden Nunn, Bridges, and Dennis will have opportunities from three when Auburn’s defenders overplay and get out of position. Walter and Nunn have had great showings this offseason, and the freshman McDonalds All-American has an opportunity tonight to show out on the season’s first big stage.

Defensively, Nunn will likely be tasked with locking down Jones, while Bridges will try to limit the junior wing Chaney Johnson, who averaged nearly 16 points per game last season on 51% FG. In the past, Johnson has been content to settle for long jumpers when he would do better to get to the rim. If Bridges and his help can build a wall on Johnson, he has the potential to shoot Auburn out of this game.

KenPom has Baylor as a 72-70 favorite tonight. It’s a tough opening test for Baylor, who has struggled recently with long, aggressive defenses.

I think Baylor can control the ball and get enough open threes to keep Auburn at arm’s length most of the night. If it all goes wrong, you’ll see it in an upside-down assist/turnover ratio.

Give me the Bears over the Tigers, 78-70.

Welcome back, basketball. We’ve missed you.