Tennessee vs. Auburn: Who has the edge in SEC Tournament Championship Game?
The SEC Tournament has been incredible, and now it’s down to the final matchup. Later Sunday afternoon, No. 5 seed Auburn will meet No. 3 seed Tennessee in Nashville for the right to cut down the nets.
Auburn beat Mizzou, South Carolina and Florida to reach this point, while the Vols took down Mississippi State and Kentucky.
Last Saturday, the Tigers took down the Vols in a thrilling regular-season finale in Auburn, but this time will be different. This time, the conference title is on the line for both squads.
So, what will happen when they tip off in a few hours at 1 p.m.? We break down the matchups here:
Yes, Tennessee has Jordan Bone — one of the best point guards in the country. However, the Tigers have a dynamic backcourt that features Jared Harper and Bryce Brown.
If Auburn wins, Jared Harper is going to be the tourney MVP, no questions asked. Meanwhile, Bone needs some more help from Lamonte Turner (who hit a huge 3 against Kentucky) or Jordan Bowden to reach the Tigers’ level.
Kyle Alexander fouled out early against Kentucky, but the Vols managed to overcome it. Add in 2-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams, and this one is no contest.
I think Auburn F Horace Spencer is criminally underrated, but Tennessee has the very clear edge here.
Tennessee has some lethal 3-point shooters (especially when Turner is hot). However, Auburn lives and dies by the 3, and it’s such an important part of their game. The Tigers made 13 of 29 3s in the 3-point victory over Florida. They were 13-for-34 in the quarterfinal win over South Carolina.
The Vols, on the other hand, have some dynamic shooters, but they don’t need the 3 the way the Tigers do. Brown, Harper, Chuma Okeke and others are such lethal shooters from long range that this is another easy category to call.
Key matchup: Jared Harper vs. Jordan Bone
These are, along with LSU’s Tremont Waters, two of the three best point guards in the conference. Both are fast, dynamic players with some incredible accuracy from behind the arc.
Harper is counted on more in Auburn’s offense than Bone is in Tennessee’s, but Bone makes the Vols a legitimate title contender when he’s firing on all cylinders. He can get a pull-up jumper in the lane anytime he wants it thanks to his speed, and if he’s hot Sunday, it could be a long day for the Tigers.
However, with both being so good, and so important for their squads. This is a tough one to call. Both of these talented players are heat-check types, too, so keep an eye on who gets it going early and who can sustain that momentum into the second half.
It can’t be overstated that Mizzou plays a big factor in this final (and yes, I’m only saying that because I’m a total Mizzou homer). Fact of the matter is that Auburn has played one extra game in this tournament, and it was against Mizzou.
That means this is four games in four days for the Tigers, while it’s only three games in three days for the Vols. Just look at Harper’s stats from the Mizzou game if you need prove of how difficult that game was.
Meanwhile, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl is dealing with an injury to key big man Austin Wiley. He had some huge moments in the win over Florida, but he’s clearly not at 100 percent still, and that’s something Pearl will have to manage.
Rick Barnes is working with a healthier set of key players for the Vols, and he has more depth on his bench anyway. Add in Barnes’ experience over Pearl, and this one tilts toward Tennessee.
Yes, this looks like a very close matchup on paper. And the Tigers beat the Vols in the regular-season finale. However, this is Nashville, this is a neutral court, and Vol Nation will be out in full force.
Tennessee is playing for a No. 1 seed, potentially, so the Vols have plenty of motivation. Add in a little extra fatigue for the Tigers, and it should be the Vols emerging victorious at the end of the day.
Prediction: Tennessee 74, Auburn 68