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Indiana men's basketball vs. Auburn: Q&A with Matt Cohen


NCAA Basketball: 2024 SEC Basketball Tipoff Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Are you curious about Auburn? We were too.

Luckily we knew a guy. Specifically fellow IU Sports Media class of 2022 alum/guy who also has to cover the 2021 Indiana football team/current Auburn beat writer Matt Cohen.

Well. Let's talk ball.

How has Auburn’s season gone so far?

Auburn started off the year playing very well, but blowing a game late against Baylor. It was a sort of moral victory for a new-look Auburn team opening the season with such a good test and coming quite close to acing it.

Auburn then rattled off five straight wins against some relatively inferior competition (Southeastern Louisiana, Notre Dame, St. Bonaventure, Alabama A&M and Virginia Tech).

And then it went to App State.

So the idea of that game was to get Auburn a test in front of a hostile road crowd but do so in a place where Auburn should still win. You don’t see a ton of major conference teams play a true road game against a mid-major. Auburn has done this frequently under Pearl. But is has won those games.

And while beating App State would have been a Quad 1 win based on the current NET rankings, it’s still a game Auburn should have won. Auburn has had a week after that game to prepare solely for Indiana. The App State loss seems far in the rearview, the tape thrown in the garbage.

Indiana is the best team, by a lot, Auburn has played since Baylor. It will be another good test, especially due to contrasting styles.

How would you describe Bruce Pearl’s style as a coach? What does he prefer and look for?

So this Indiana team specifically hits every single Big Ten trope. It is physical, it is big and it plays good defense. THAT is exactly what Mike Woodson wants.

Bruce Pearl? Welcome to a completely opposite style.

Pearl teams are going to play fast, aggressive and shoot 3s. Since Auburn made the Final Four in 2019, it has shot the ball a lot but not particularly well. This is a much better shooting Auburn team. Now it hasn’t quite looked that way over the last two games, but it doesn’t appear Auburn is concerned (more on that later).

Pearl has normally relied on elite guards and he has one of those with Aden Holloway this year, but this is a rare year when Pearl’s best player is his post: Johni Broome. It’s taken some adjustment to his typical track-meet style, but the offense (outside of the last two games) has been excellent so far. Scoring 80+ is not a problem for this Auburn team.

What are Auburn’s strengths and weaknesses?

It seemed like Auburn wasn’t going to be a very good defensive team. Turns out that might not be the chaos. Auburn’s defense is the only reason it even had a chance against App State. It’s gotten better and better with each game. It’s an aggressive and opportunistic defense, but one that does not leave many open shots.

It’s a top 15-ranked defense based on KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency.

Auburn also is extremely deep. While Johni Broome can put up some big scoring numbers, Auburn is truly 10-deep and frequently will have at least eight to nine players contribute scoring. Pearl has been unable to determine if that means Auburn’s starters just aren’t that much better than its bench, and if so is that because his starters are really good and his bench is really good? Or is it because his starters may not be that superior?

The depth also leads to an efficient offense where Auburn has one of the best assist rates in the nation.

Auburn also is one of the worst teams in the country in terms of committing fouls. And when Auburn has been fouled, it hasn’t been great making its free throws. That could be a big issue against an Indiana team that is physical and bigger than Auburn in the post. Malik Reneau and Johni Broome are going to draw fouls. Can Auburn’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? Auburn’s depth in its front court is not as good as its back court.

What happened against App State?

Simply put, Auburn shot the ball terribly. Auburn was 3-27 on 3s against App State. That is never going to get it done. Meanwhile, Auburn, which had defended the 3-point shot well all season, allowed App State to shoot 47%.

Put those two stats together and you aren’t gonna win many basketball games.

Auburn isn’t concerned about that, though. A ton of those misses were on open looks. This is a good shooting team and, eventually, those shots are going to fall. It’s much easier to fix missing open shots with a team that has proven it can make them than it is an offense that cannot find open looks to begin with.

How long Auburn stays in this shooting slump is the bigger concern.

Which Tigers do you expect to be factors on Saturday?

Aden Holloway has to be a factor. After starting out so strong, he’s looked much more like a freshman after Thanksgiving. That can’t happen.

He’s Auburn’s best shooter, and Auburn will need his production to contrast Indiana’s post-reliance.

Any matchups you’re intrigued to watch?

This game is going to come down to the post-play. Indiana, by far, is the best front court Auburn has faced so far this year and probably the best it will face this year.

I’m intrigued to see how Auburn defends the post, knowing it has a size disadvantage, but also being aware of Indiana’s inability and unwillingness to shoot 3s. That may lead to Auburn be willing to both play zone-defense and force Indiana to shoot, or crash its wings inside on double teams to help on Kel’el Ware and Malik Reneau.

On the flip side, can Auburn continue to play its offense through Johni Broome as much as it would like? Auburn has other scoring options with its ability to shoot (should they actually make their shots) which gives Auburn a bit more flexibility should it lose the matchup inside.