The SEC is host to two massive battles for conference supremacy and for national attention. The one I’d like to put my hands on is in Knoxville. The 17th-ranked Volunteers welcome the 4th-ranked Auburn Tigers for a heavyweight bout. Tennessee is a 3-point favorite and the total is 140.
The implications of this game are way, way big. Auburn hasn’t wrapped up the #1 Seed and a regular season conference championship quite yet and has some work to do in the final three game but it’s fair to say this will be the stiffest test remaining for the Tigers. A win tonight wouldn’t clinch the crown but it would essentially take a collpase thereafer against vastly inferior opponents to lose the title. Tennessee can still win the top spot but needs a little help along the way with their wins.
Tennessee has the look of a team rounding into form at the right time. They’ve won six-of-seven games coming into this afternoon’s battle and they have done it primarily with anaconda-like defense. They are allowing just 62.8 points per game. They hold opponents to just 40.7% shooting from the field and from deep, just 32.4%.
They turn teams over, too ranking 8th nationally in steals per game and 10th in turnover margin. The Vols have that defensive clout that can win in big games rolling right now. Even in their loss against Arkansas last weekend, the one where they scored just 48 points, they allowed a mere 58.
Auburn defensively is a bear too. They are 11th in the country in opponents’ field goal percentage (38.4), average just one steal fewer than Tennessee per game and and are by far the #1 team in the country in blocks (8.2) per game. Seven of Auburn’s last nine opponents didn’t crack 40% shooting from the field in their game.
Auburn, however, just isn’t nearly the same on the road. Auburn’s three losses have come away from Auburn Arena (now Neville Arena) and two were their most recent road games in the SEC (Florida, Arkansas). Despite their offensive efforts to win the game, defense was never the problem and kept them in those games and in other games where they got off to a slow start offensively.
Tennessee could use a repeat performance of their previous two home games with top five teams this season. From the beginning of those games (Arizona, Kentucky), Tennessee was on fire. They sprinted to a 22-7 lead against Arizona and a 32-18 spread just eleven days ago against Kentucky. Both were wins and both were impressive defensive efforts too. If the Vols repeat that today, Auburn will struggle to come back.
Tennessee is perfect at home too. The Vols are 14-0 at Thompson-Boling Arena and very few of those games have been close. Eleven were decided by double digits and every one was decided by a minimum of four points (interesting spread I see). I think Auburn is extremely capable of winning this game. They have great pieces all over the floor. Today, someone is going to have to win this game defensively. I don’t love the Vols in this spot, but I don’t hate them either. I just know they are capable of another 50-point stinkfest against a quality opponent (usually not at home though). Instead I will take the UNDER 140 today for a really good game.