College Basketball Betting: Why You Should Start Paying Attention to the Auburn Tigers
Bruce Pearl is in his seventh season at Auburn which marks the longest tenured DI head coaching job of his career. Pearl’s 2019 squad made a surprising run to the Final Four but the program had been gaining steam well before then. After two rough seasons spent cleaning up the mess Tony Barbee left, Pearl began to hit his stride. From 2017-19 Auburn finished above its KenPom preseason rank and last year was on track to earn a top-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Heading into this season, with nearly everyone gone, the Tigers ranked 344th in experience which led to some unsurprising early season struggles. But now it’s time to take notice.
Three Man Weave ranked Auburn in our preseason top 40 for two primary reasons: First, Bruce Pearl is an excellent coach and second, Sharife Cooper. Cooper came to Auburn this offseason as a 5-star prospect and top-five point guard in his class. Take one look at his highlight tape and it’s not hard to see why. With his presence, plus the presumed ascendance of former role players Allen Flanigan, Jaylin Williams, and Desmond Cambridge, and the addition of 4-star forward JT Thor, we were confident that Auburn would still compete near the top of the SEC.
Alas, Cooper’s debut was held up due to eligibility concerns causing him to miss Auburn’s first 11 games. In those contests the Tigers went 6-5 straight up and 3-8 against the spread. They scored an impressive win against Memphis on a neutral floor but otherwise lacked any key victories. Cooper’s absence wasn’t all negative, however. Without his stud point guard at his disposal, Pearl was forced to look elsewhere for competent ball handlers and he found one in 6’6” freshman Justin Powell. Powell was an “unheralded” 3-star recruit out of Goshen, Kentucky and not expected to make much of an impact. Instead, Powell embraced the starting role, dishing out assists at a top-70 rate nationally and stroking threes to the tune of 44.2%. Before going down with injury on January 2, Powell was averaging 11.7 ppg, 6.1 rp, and 4.7 apg – the latter two stats led the Tigers at the time.
Powell’s injury coincided almost perfectly with Cooper’s recent return. Cooper was inserted into the starting five against Alabama on January 9 and quickly asserted his dominance. Auburn nearly upended a hot Crimson Tide squad as Cooper paced the Tigers with 26 points, 4 rebounds, and 9 assists. Four days later Cooper did it again, pouring in 28 points, grabbing 5 rebounds, and dishing out 12 assists in a dismantling of Georgia.
So, what are the takeaways for the bettors of the world? Well, for starters, it’s time to move Auburn up in your power ratings – the Tigers missed a cover against Alabama by a hook and flew over the pick ’em line set by oddmakers against Georgia. When Powell returns, it’s very likely Auburn improves even more with Pearl able to go to a dual-PG look and use the sharp-shooting Powell more off-the-ball while Cooper continues to create. Secondly, it’s time to start betting the OVER. Before Cooper’s debut the Tigers were 3-8 O/U; a consequence of poor offensive efficiency and Pearl pumping the breaks ever-so-slightly on his squad sans a dynamic point guard. In Cooper’s two games thus far, Auburn is 2-0 to the OVER playing a ridiculous 88-possession game against Alabama and an 85-possession game against Georgia. Alabama and Georgia’s willingness to play in transition certainly factored into those results, but it’s a fair bet Auburn ups its tempo and improves its offensive efficiency with Cooper now fully in the mix.
Follow Three Man Weave’s Ky McKeon @Ky_3MW.