SALT LAKE CITY — Defending the three-point line has been both a point of emphasis and an issue all season for the Kansas Jayhawks, and they’ll have arguably their toughest matchup of the season in that regard when they face Auburn in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday.
The Tigers have attempted the second most three pointers of any team in the nation, with 1,083 attempts through 36 games, or over 30 per contest. They shoot it efficiently, too, ranking 37th in the nation with a 37.6 percent success rate from deep.
For comparison, Iowa State, which beat Kansas by double digits twice this season, shoots 36.5 percent from three-point range on 23 attempts per game.
“[O]ur job is to make our teammates better, me and Jared [Harper] and Chuma [Okeke], the primary playmakers, to get inside the paint and not only finish, but to try and drive and draw to our teammates hoping they can get open looks as well,” senior guard Bryce Brown said. “We have quick guards that are not just able to shoot but we can also get downhill as well.”
At face value, Kansas was tasked with a similar challenge in its first game of the tournament, taking on (and eventually beating) Northeastern, the 14 seed in the Midwest and a team that shoots 25 threes per game on average. The Jayhawks held the Huskies to 21.4 percent from deep.
It’s almost impossible to compare the two matchups beyond the frequency of shots from beyond the arc, though. Auburn is able to create shots off the dribble, in transition and in catch-and-shoot situations, not to mention the Tigers’ athleticism is light years ahead of that from Northeastern.
“I think we match up pretty well with them,” senior forward Horace Spencer said. “All of us on the team, we’re athletic one through five. I feel like we can match them man to man, I feel like we’re pretty good in all positions, athletically wise.”
Something Auburn will need to avoid in the second round is violently alternating between hot and cold stretches. “Madness” emerged for the first time in the tournament this year when the Tigers inexplicably collapsed in their first game against New Mexico State, surviving with a one-point win after blowing a late eight-point lead (which was as many as 13 a few minutes prior).
“You can go through a situation all you want in practice, but until you’re out there in that pressure situation, that’s why you understand that players are going to do what they do,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “And they’re going to make plays, both good and bad, so that can sometimes win you games, it can cost you games.”
It was a trend all game long. In the first half, Auburn had a 13-0 run and almost instantly followed it with a 0-of-7 stretch from the floor, closing the half by going 5:33 without a field goal.
“Through the streak when we were on our 13-0 run, I think all our points came on play calls,” junior forward Anfernee McLemore said. “But when we’d go missing shots, we tended to take quick shots in transition or just things not in our offense. I think to be more consistent, we need to make sure to get good looks and get into rebound position when our guys do take shots.”
Teams that live and die by the three have found success against the Jayhawks this season. For the Tigers, they need to avoid going through both stages constantly in the same game to knock off the No. 4 seed in the Midwest.
Click below to hear what the Tigers had to say ahead of Saturday’s Round of 32 game against Kansas:
Chuma Okeke and Bryce Brown