No, this isn’t a dream.
Auburn is seeded fourth in the Midwest region and will play its first NCAA Tournament game in 15 years Friday night against 13th-seeded College of Charleston in San Diego, California.
The 13th-seeded Cougars enter Friday’s game having won 13 of their last 14 games, including an 83-76 win over Northeastern in the CAA Championship Game. Charleston trailed by 13 points at halftime in that game, but outscored the Huskies 42-29 in the second half before winning in overtime.
"College of Charleston, they’re good," Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. "They’ve got four guys, even maybe five, that could absolutely play in our league and play every night. They’re very experienced, one of the most experienced teams in the country. All these guys played together last year, and they play effectively. Defensively, coach (Earl Grant) is from the Brad Brownell family of coaches interestingly enough. They know how to guard, mostly man, really athletic and they’ll do a good job with our scout. They’ll be prepared.
Auburn’s late-season skid that featured four losses in their last six games did not hurt the Tigers’ seeding too much, and the committee appears to have granted Auburn a favorable first-round matchup.
Charleston comes in at 120th in the KenPom rankings, which is the lowest of the 13-seeds and below 14-seeds Montana, Stephen F Austin, and Bucknell as well as 15-seed Georgia State.
The Charleston backcourt of Grant Riller and Joe Chealey could present a difficult matchup for Auburn as both average 18 points per game and shoot better than 35 percent from three-point range.
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"We’re going to watch a lot of film on Chealey," Pearl said. "Chealey, he’s a flopper, but he’s smart in the sense that he’ll kick his legs out when he shoots a 3-ball. A little bit like Jared (Harper), he acts like he’s getting assaulted all the time. You just hope that the officials don’t bite. If they do bite early, I’ll make sure that they’re aware that I watched a lot of tape and just keep an eye on the fact that he does (flop). He is a terrific player, smart player, fifth-year senior."
With a starting lineup featuring 6’7” forward Jarrell Brantley and 6’10” center Nick Harris, the Cougars will also have a significant size advantage inside.
DeSean Murray could have his hands full with Brantley, who comes in to Friday’s game averaging 17 points and seven rebounds per game. Harris averages six points and six rebounds per game while also providing rim protection with 1.3 blocks per game.
“I think we’ll probably go back and forth, and even if I did tell you what the matchups are going to be, I wouldn’t tell you what the matchups are going to be," Pearl said of defending Charleston. "But I’ve already said our guards have got to guard. Our guards are going to have their hands full, and I hope they think their guards are going to have their hands full.”
The Cougars are more experienced than Auburn and should be a popular upset pick given Auburn’s lack of recent form. However, the fact that Auburn remains a double-digit favorite over Charleston suggests the Tigers should have a good chance of advancing to the round of 32.
Auburn and College of Charleston will tip off Friday at 6:27 PM CT.
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