College Basketball Odds, Picks for Oklahoma vs. Auburn (Saturday, January 29)
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images. Pictured: Jabari Smith.
Oklahoma vs. Auburn Odds
-114o / -106u
-114o / -106u
The Big 12-SEC Challenge has been a welcome addition to the college basketball calendar. While many of the other conference-themed events are fun, this is the only one that comes in the heart of conference play. These January games go a long way in determining NCAA Tournament seeding and placement on the bubble when mid-March rolls around.
This game will be no different, with Oklahoma visiting top-ranked Auburn. The Tigers are looking to stack quality wins in order to lock up a top seed in March’s bracket. Beating the Sooners would just barely be a Quad 2 win for Auburn, but Oklahoma certainly has the chance to work itself up into the top 30 later in the season.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, can see its tournament future slipping away. The Sooners have lost five of their last seven and now sit as a 10-seed and one of the last eight teams in the field according to Bracket Matrix. With a hellish Big 12 schedule remaining, the Sooners need every win they can bank.
With plenty on the line for both teams, this game should be a rumble in the Jungle of Auburn, Alabama.
The Sooners have played well in Porter Moser’s first season as head coach in Norman, yet the rigors of the Big 12 have weighed on Oklahoma. A 2-5 start in conference play looks bad, but three of those losses came on the road against top-65 opponents, and the other two came in home losses to top-10 teams Kansas and Baylor. One possession losses to Kansas and TCU have left the Sooners with work to do in the back half of the Big 12 schedule.
If Oklahoma is going to get rolling down the stretch, the Sooners must cut down on turnovers. Oklahoma is coughing up the ball on 22.4 percent of its possessions, good for 16th worst in the nation and the highest percentage of any Porter Moser team since his first year at Loyola-Chicago in 2012. Worst of all, the turnovers are frequently live-ball turnovers, leading to run outs on the other end. The Sooner defense is excellent, but there is no defense for open layups and transition 3s.
Like many Moser-coached teams in the past, the Sooners are working to get quality looks at the rim. Oklahoma ranks fourth in two-point shooting percentage. While that is a great indicator of the Sooners’ efficiency, Oklahoma’s turnovers creates a possession deficit that can’t be made up with two-point buckets.
The Tigers celebrated the first week being the top-ranked team in the nation in program history by almost losing that ranking right away. Auburn dropped its worst performance of the season to date, an ugly one-point win at Missouri. The Tigers played their worst offensive game, scoring only 0.91 points per possession, in a game that was a slowed down to a 60-possession slog, Auburn’s slowest game yet this season.
Auburn’s future All-American and lottery pick Jabari Smith was off his game, shooting 2-of-15 from the field. Luckily, the Auburn defense made the trip to Columbia and was good enough for the Tigers to escape with a win.
That defense has been stellar all season, anchored by North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler. The 7-footer has been the best rim protector in the nation, leading the country in block rate. He has blocked over 18 percent of opposing players’ two-point shot attempts when he is on the floor this season. He’d be the first player to top 18 percent in that stat since Hassan Whiteside did so at Marshall in 2010.
Kessler is also a key part of the Tiger offense. His ability to rim run after a pick-and-roll action clears so much space for his teammates. The Tiger guards love to use his screens to create space, opening up a lane to the paint, an open shooter, or Kessler for a lob dunk.
While Kessler has been revelatory, Smith is the piece that unlocks Auburn’s ceiling. He is a 6-foot-10 wing player, shooting over 40 percent from outside and nearly impossible to stop when he gets downhill and headed to the rim. Few teams have a player capable of matching up with Smith, with Oklahoma’s roster in particularly ill-suited to slow him down.
Oklahoma vs. Auburn Betting Pick
Jabari Smith is not likely to repeat his performance from Tuesday’s close call at Mizzou. Against this Oklahoma roster, he should have a matchup advantage. The Sooners frequently play only one big man, Tanner Groves, who will be busy with Walker Kessler inside. Instead, Smith will face a group of players who are four or five inches shorter than he is, or the thin-framed Jacob Groves. Either way, Oklahoma will need to send extra bodies to slow down Smith. That’s a dangerous gambit against a team with as many playmakers as Auburn.
On the other end of the floor, Oklahoma’s plans to attack the paint for high-percentage shots at the rim is ill-advised against Walker Kessler. Unless he falls into foul trouble, he will cause major issues for the Sooners inside. Tanner Groves is a good-enough shooter to pull Kessler from the paint in the pick and pop, but over 40 minutes, Auburn will take the chances that Groves buries them with a barrage of 3s over keeping Kessler from what he does best.
Look for the Tigers to bounce back at home after a shaky performance on the road. Even with a spread of this size, I like Auburn to cover.
Pick: Auburn -9.5
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