5 players Auburn doesn’t want to see in the SEC Tournament

Bruce Pearl's team is good enough to win the 2024 SEC Tournament, but these five players, who are on contending teams, could spoil the party for the Tigers. Why Mark Sears, Antonio Reeves, and other scoring guards are Auburn's worst nightmare in March.

Alabama Crimson Tide guard Mark Sears (1)
Alabama Crimson Tide guard Mark Sears (1) / Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK
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On Saturday, Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers collected their 21st win of the season with a 97-76 victory over Georgia in Athens. The No. 11 Tigers, are currently fourth in the SEC with a 10-4 conference record but still trail No. 4 Tennessee, No. 14 Alabama, and No. 18 South Carolina. 

Auburn has a matchup with the first-place Volunteers on Wednesday, which could ultimately decide the regular season champion in the conference and the top seed in the SEC Tournament. Last year, Arkansas bounced the Tigers in their opening game of the tournament, but this Auburn roster is much better, will likely clinch the double-bye to the quarterfinals, and has a very real shot at claiming the auto-bid from one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball. 

Pearl’s team this season is unique because of the depth on the bench. His rotation has gone as much as 11-deep at points in the year but has recently been cut to around nine. That’s still two or three more players than other national title contenders typically trust. No player on Auburn’s roster averages more than 25 minutes and leading scorer Johni Broome averages 16.1 points in just 24.5 minutes.

That depth and versatility with multiple wing scorers, Jaylin Williams and Chad Baker-Mazara, a deep backcourt with Aden Holloway, K.D. Johnson, Denver Jones, and Tre Donaldson, and two rim protectors in Broome and Dylan Cardwell. The Tigers can play with unmatched intensity on defense which has manifested in the fifth-rated adjusted defense by KenPom. 

Auburn allows the 14th-lowest opponent three-point shooting percentage and the fourth-lowest two-point field goal rate. With so much depth and versatility, the only players who have been able to find success scoring against the Tigers' defense in SEC play have been volume shooting guards. This group has tormented Auburn so far this year and are the five players that the Tigers do not want to run into in Nashville. 

. SG. Riley Kugel. Riley Kugel. 5. player. Riley Kugel. . Sophomore. 526

Kugel has been the biggest disappointment on Florida's roster in his sophomore year. Instead of turning into a star for Todd Golden, Kugel’s mercurial play has landed him on the bench, and in Florida’s last two games he’s played three and six minutes respectively. 

Still, Auburn would prefer not to run into Kugel and if the Tigers drew the Gators in the tournament, Golden would almost be forced to give Kugel minutes. When the two teams met on February 10 in Gainesville Kugel dropped 22 points on 16 shots in 29 minutes. He went 3-7 from three and 5-5 from the free throw line in Florida’s 81-65 win. 

In that one, Kugel played his best game since November and went into an immediate funk after that breakout, but the 6-foot-5 scoring guard is a tough matchup for Auburn. At 6-foot-4 205 Denver Jones is the biggest of Auburn’s four undersized guards, so players like Kugel are difficult for the Tigers to defend. 

There’s a chance Kugel is out of Florida’s rotation by March, and yet Auburn fans would get a shiver down their spines if he takes the floor in Nashville.