Auburn basketball: 3 keys to victory against the UCF Knights

Auburn basketball Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Auburn basketball Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Auburn basketball has started off the season as expected, splitting their first two games. Here are 3 keys to the Tigers improving to 2-1 against the UCF Knights on Monday.

With star prospect Sharife Cooper still awaiting on ruling for his eligibility, and with Auburn basketball self-imposing a postseason ban, Bruce Pearl’s squad has done a good job so far in 2020-21 given the circumstances.

The Tigers started the season off with a nail-biter on Thanskgiving against St. Joseph’s, but they were able to prevail in overtime in a balanced scoring effort that saw five players in double figures–including 17 points and seven rebounds off the bench from freshman Justin Powell.

Friday’s matinee against #1 ranked Gonzaga didn’t have the same feel-good vibes. Auburn was dominated by a team who simply operates on a different level than the Tigers, particularly during a season that could objectively be seen as a transitional one for a program in flux.

That said, this team is going to show up no matter what the circumstances are. Even during a pandemic-ravaged college basketball schedule, these kids are living out their dreams and representing one of the proudest schools in the SEC across all sports.

That’s why the War Eagle believes they will improve to 2-1 against the UCF Knights tomorrow night. Here are 3 specific keys to victory at the CFE Arena in Orlando tomorrow night:

1. Distribute the ball better

Auburn basketball is littered with talented athletes up and down their roster. The team has not had an issue so far banging in the post and creating second-chance opportunities for themselves, especially against St. Joseph’s in their opener at the Fort Myers tip-off.

That said, the Tigers have a tendency to score a lot of points off of the individual offensive talents on the team. Tyrell Jones, Justin Powell and Jamal Johnson all shone with their isolation abilities, but the Auburn backcourt needs to better distribute the basketball.

Pearl’s squad has lost the assist battle both games, even only garnering 12 against the mighty Gonzaga Bulldogs. That needs to improve against the Knights on Monday.

2. Get Justin Powell and Jamal Johnson going off the bench

Powell was somewhat of an unsung hero in the Tigers’ opening day victory against the Hawks. His ability to efficiently score the ball arguably turned the tide in Auburn basketball’s essential victory in their 2020-21 debut.

Without Sharife Cooper, points will have to come from a committee of scorers. The team was able to nail that mix against St. Joseph’s, and in order to keep winning moving forward, the team will need to continue getting contributions from their bench.

Johnson stepped up against Gonzaga, pitching in 11 points as one of only three players to score double digits in their 23-point blowout loss Friday.

Both need to start playing with some consistency if these Tigers want to make the most out of what will easily be the weirdest season of the Bruce Pearl era.

3. Score the ball at a torrid pace

Quite honestly, the War Eagle is a little stumped as to how the UCF Knights are going to produce a lot of points given the absence of their top player Collin Smith–a 6-foot-10 junior who decided to step away from the Knights this season to focus on his health.

With the team’s leading scorer and rebounder absent for the 2020-21 season, UCF does not have the means to match Auburn in a firefight. The Tigers need to attack early and often, and force the pace on a Knights team projected to finish seventh in the AAC.

Next. Busting Brackets sees Sharife Cooper as a top 10 SEC guard. dark