The Battle 4 Atlantic tournament gets underway on Wednesday afternoon with a top-25 showdown between the no. 22 UConn Huskies and the no. 19 Auburn Tigers.
Both teams are heading to the Bahamas this week with undefeated records, which will quickly change for at least one of them. On Wednesday, the Huskies are considered 3.5-point favorites with an over/under of 143 points.
Coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance last season, the Huskies have looked good early in Dan Hurley’s fourth year at the helm. UConn has looked convincing during a 4-0 start to the season. However, they’ve yet to be fully tested against the likes of Coppin State and Binghamton.
The same can be said of Bruce Pearl’s Tigers, who are hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 13-14 campaign. Auburn cruised to easy wins over Morehead State and Louisiana-Monroe to open the season. However, the Tigers had to overcome a halftime deficit in their last game, a 58-52 win over South Florida.
A New Pack
Despite returning three starters who are upperclassmen, it’s been sophomore K.D. Johnson stepping up as Auburn’s top scorer this season. The sophomore spent last season with Georgia but is averaging 15 points per game with the Tigers through three games. Fellow transfers Wendell Green and Zep Jasper have also stepped in as fixtures in the Auburn backcourt.
In the frontcourt, the Tigers have a bonafide NBA prospect in Jabari Smith, who is proving that he has the range to shoot from the outside and the physicality to dominate the paint, averaging 8.7 rebounds per game early in the season. Meanwhile, Jaylin Williams is averaging eight points and three rebounds per game as one of the few Auburn returning players who is making an impact this year.
Also, North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler gives the Tigers even more size and a rebounding force despite not scoring a lot early in the season.
The Perfect Balance
Thus far, the Huskies have displayed perfect balance, with nine players averaging at least 10 minutes per game and seven of those players averaging at least eight points per game. Adama Sanogo has been UConn’s best player, averaging 15.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game to give the Huskies an excellent post presence.
The Huskies also have three other players who are hauling in at least five rebounds per game, so they figure to be a tough and physical team to play.
Senior guard R.J. Cole is leading the backcourt with 11 points and 4.5 assists per game. Tyrese Martin, another senior guard, is the second-leading scorer with 13.5 points per game and a key rebounding force. Jalen Gaffney and Andre Jackson have also contributed to the Huskies early in the season, adding to their balanced and veteran-laden lineup.
Experience Over Youth
Auburn might be the more talented team in this game, but it might be too early for the Tigers to play a game like this. The Huskies are a veteran team with a lot of chemistry, while Auburn is trying to get a slew of transfers and younger players on the same page. Bet on UConn to win and cover on Wednesday afternoon.
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