How to Bet the Cancun Challenge: Auburn vs. Bradley & Liberty vs. Northwestern
Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images. Pictured: Bruce Pearl (Auburn)
In the continuation of Feast Week, Cancun will host two tournaments at the Hotel Riviera Maya.
Auburn is the clear favorite in this field, with Northwestern favored slightly over Liberty.
That said, Bradley comes into this tournament ranked 122nd, according to KenPom. Liberty is 97th, so neither of these mid-majors are necessarily slouches.
Auburn has a tendency to get a little sloppy on the offensive end, and Northwestern does not have much going for itself in the post. If the underdogs can attack these issues, these games could turn into upsets.
No. 13 Auburn vs. Bradley
Auburn is the most balanced team in this tournament. The Tigers rank 13th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and 28th in Offensive Efficiency (KenPom).
They thrive on the offensive glass, but struggle crashing the boards defensively.
Put-backs and an extremely fast tempo are conducive to drawing fouls, and this is what the Tigers stress.
Johni Broome is questionable with a bone bruise, so this could hurt them on the glass.
Auburn runs at the 91st-ranked Adjusted Tempo in the country. It only shoots 25% from deep while launching a ton of 3s, so much of its scoring distribution comes from drawing contact and pushing the ball up the floor in transition.
In fact, 21.8% of the Tigers’ scoring has come from the strike this season.
Here’s an example of how they can speed up a team by turning the ball over and scoring immediately after:
KD Johnson is feeling it tonight.
He drilled a tough three with a hand in his face and then threw an oop to Allen Flanigan off the backboard on the next play. pic.twitter.com/70pHxSUbBS
— Jay Phillips (@aubawn) November 19, 2022
Disadvantage: Hectic Behavior
This team ranks 222nd in offensive turnover percentage. The Tigers’ pace can sometimes get the best of them, so they have Jekyll and Hyde tendencies.
No, they’re likely not going to shoot this poorly from 3-point range all season, but Bradley is pretty calm and a complete contrast in style.
If the Braves make the calculated plays at the right time, this game could be closer than expected.
Photo by CBB Analytics
The Braves will be at the top or in the middle of the pack in the Missouri Valley this season. They are relatively balanced and have one loss year-to-date against Utah State, albeit by 22 points.
Bradley also manufactures a ton of points from the free-throw line.
The major problem is Ja’Shon Henry is injured with a concussion. He’s the team’s leading scorer, who also hauls in six boards per game and has 22 free-throw attempts on the season.
Luckily, the Braves have five players averaging double digits in scoring, so they can lead by committee.
They aren’t strong shooting from beyond the arc, though, so they need to find one specific area to triumph over Auburn to get to the finals.
That area is 100% discipline. Unlike the Tigers, the Braves only turn the ball over 15.7% of the time.
Duke Deen can manage the point guard position and averages 3.3 assists per game and less than 1.5 turnovers a night.
Still, Auburn turns opponents over 23.8% of the time, and Bradley coughed up the ball a bit more than usual against Utah State. Expect similar pressure on the ball from a better defensive team in Auburn.
However, if the Braves can rotate the ball properly, Deen, Malevy Leons and Ville Tahvanainen are threats from downtown who could give the Braves a boost.
Disadvantage: 3-Point Shooting
Much of the Braves’ success has come from the inside.
Auburn is holding opponents to 24.2% from 3-point range, so even if the Braves find a way to get the ball to Deen, Leons and Tahvanainen without Henry as an offensive decoy, it will be tough to get an open look from outside.
Photo by CBB Analytics
Liberty vs. Northwestern
Liberty has been a fixture in NCAA tournament conversations for some time now.
This season is a bit different with how one-sided this offense looks.
Brody Peebles and Darius McGhee are the only Flames players averaging at least eight points per game.
Much like their opponent, the Flames score primarily from outside — 41.4% of their point distribution has come from 3-pointers.
They also shoot 50.9 3PA/FGA, so when they are hot, look out.
Just look at this:
Liberty’s Darius McGhee with a ridiculous left hand 3
One of the best players in the country at any level 💎
— Hoop Herald (@TheHoopHerald) November 15, 2022
They probably have the edge over Northwestern in terms of versatility from their backcourt.
Liberty ranks 281st in offensive rebounding percentage and 194th in defensive rebounding. These are atrocious numbers, considering the team it’s playing excels in these areas.
Northwestern is not much of a threat offensively, but it has the height at the guard positions. This could, A) interfere with come deep shots from the Liberty backcourt, and 2) give the Wildcats a leg up on rebounding outside of the post.
Either way, this advantage will probably win Northwestern the ball game.
The Wildcats are one of the only Big Ten teams without a completely different look this season.
They lost Ryan Young to Duke, but Chase Audige and Boo Buie still lead the charge.
For a high-major team, Liberty will be Northwestern’s biggest test to date. This Wildcats team defeated Georgetown in the Gavitt Games, but that may be as easy as it can get for a large-conference opponent.
They do have a slight edge over the Flames and it will come on the defensive end.
This team has played at a slow, methodical pace this season, and that allows its defense to settle into positioning. The Wildcats turn opponents over at the 69th-best rate in the NCAA and can crash the glass on both ends of the floor.
Liberty ranks 220th in offensive turnover percentage, so look for NU to exploit this.
The Flames also struggle on the glass, so this another edge to the Cats, as they can rebound from every position.
Disadvantage: Inside Presence
Northwestern may be able to defend taller players and snag boards, but it cannot hit an inside shot to save its collective lives. The Wildcats are shooting 44.8% on 2-pointers and 36.9% from outside.
This will surely change in Big Ten play, when teams recognize this one-sided offense. They need to figure something out quickly because good teams can shut this down immediately.
Plus, Buie and Audige have a propensity to cool off and keep shooting anyways.
At that point, the shooting edge goes to Liberty.
Photo by CBB Analytics
2022 Cancun Challenge Best Bets
Auburn is the clear favorite, and it plays the Bradley Braves, who are without their best player. Look for the Tigers to win by double digits. If Broome plays, this is even more of a problem for the Braves on the glass and down low.
Northwestern and Liberty have similar offensive approaches and some guards who can get hot at the right time. The difference is the NU defense is strong and will limit the Liberty backcourt from hitting deep shots.
The Cats should win the rebounding margin to propel them to victory, but since Northwestern has not played a better team than Liberty yet, Liberty at +4 or better has value with how hot the Flames can get at times.
If Northwestern and Auburn advance to play in the finals, Auburn’s offense should overpower the Wildcats, but might be messy with turnovers. Take Northwestern to +7.
If Auburn plays the Flames, it will turn them over and win the rebounding margin significantly. Take Auburn to -10.