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Next Up - Auburn

A serious challenge tonight in Hawaii

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Maui Invitational - Duke v San Diego State
 LAHAINA, HI - NOVEMBER 19: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils goes up for a dunk off the fast break during the second half of the game against the San Diego State Aztecs at Lahaina Civic Center on November 19, 2018 in Lahaina, Hawaii.
Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Duke-Auburn seems like an unlikely matchup in some respects doesn’t it?

Long celebrated for football success, Auburn has had hit-or-miss success in basketball.

Its brightest star was the legendary Charles Barkley, who played for Sonny Smith, the wisecracking, deeply anxious former Tigers coach. There were other stars periodically too: Chuck and Wesley Person, Mamadou N’Diaye, Toney Douglas.

There are others. But when you think of Auburn you naturally think of Cam Newton and Bo Jackson. That’s just the way it is.

Auburn has only made the NCAA tournament nine times - ever, culminating in an astonishing loss to Clemson, which just ripped Auburn into bite-sized pieces. It was a call-your-buddy game because it was hard to believe what you were seeing.

It has three SEC championships all time, including last year.

So hiring Bruce Pearl, at least from a competitive point of view, was a smart move (Pearl got in trouble at Tennessee and was forced into a show-cause hiring situation and Auburn has really helped define the SEC as the Situational Ethics Conference: this may not end well).

His teams at UT were a blast though, an orange blur up and down the court, and he’s clearly building Auburn into a similar program.

The Tigers come into Tuesday’s game with Duke with an athletic, quick team. The highlight from the win over Xavier was a phenomenal overtime dunk by 5-11 Jared Harper.

He’s going to be the toughest matchup that Duke’s Tre Jones has yet seen. Jones, who came to Duke with a reputation as a solid floor general and defender, will need to really work Harper and stay out of foul trouble.

Auburn also has an advantage over Duke when it comes to experience: the roster lists just three freshmen and none of them play much.

This is the primary rotation:

  • Harper is a junior
  • Bryce Brown a 6-3 senior
  • Chuma Okeke a 6-8, 230 lb. soph
  • Samir Doughty a 6-4 junior
  • Anfernee McLemore a 6-7, 220 lb. junior
  • Horace Spencer a 6-8, 225 lb. senior
  • Austin Wiley a 6-11 260 lb. junior
  • J’von McCormick, a 6-0, 175 lb. junior

That’s straight out of 1998 and Duke, for all its talent, got into early foul trouble against San Diego State on Monday.

So Duke will have to defend hard and Auburn is likely to punch the ball inside since they don’t necessarily shoot that well from deep, not that it necessarily matters that much. This is a team offers Duke some unique challenges. It’s kind of Pitino-esque, possibly minus great three point shooting, and is significantly thicker and stronger than a typical Pitino team.

For Duke, it’ll be important to avoid fouls and especially foolish fouls. On Monday, we saw Javin DeLaurier reach and RJ Barrett bite down hard on a fake. They’ll pay for that against a team as talented as Auburn.

If Duke can stay out of foul trouble, and if Duke defends well, and if Duke can hit threes and continue to run, which seems likely since Auburn is unlikely to slow the game down, this could be the most entertaining contest of the season so far and we don’t mean just Duke’s schedule either.

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