Following a crushing loss to Texas A&M the Florida Gators (15-7, 5-4 SEC) will get a chance to get a resume boosting win on February 10th when they take on one of the most fascinating teams in the country, the Auburn Tigers (18-4, 7-2 SEC).
If you’re thinking that’s quite a break between games for Florida–you’re correct. This will be the Gators’ unofficial “bye” week where they go 7 days without a game, meaning they’ll have a rest advantage over Auburn who will be taking on a very good Alabama team on February 7th.
Auburn has been one of the most fascinating teams in the country this season because in a lot of ways we still can’t be sure exactly how good they are even though we’re 22 games into the season. On one hand–you’ve got the resume. Despite having 18 wins, the Tigers don’t really have anything on the resume of substance. In the non-conference portion of the season the Tigers’ best win came against Virginia Tech who is ranked 58th in KenPom. In SEC play, their best win has come against Texas A&M–currently 48th in KenPom. This makes Auburn 1-3 in quadrant-1 games with one quad-2 loss in non-conference play (Appalachian State who has been a tremendous mid-major). That’s the resume side of things, but there is another side of the story–the metrics.
Computers LOVE Auburn.
In the NET, Auburn is currently 8th despite having the kind of great wins most top teams have. In fact, Auburn is the only team in the top 22 of the NET to only have one quad-1 win, and the team in 23rd that happens to have only one quad-1 win is Indiana State who has far less opportunities to schedule games than the Tigers do. This isn’t the only anomaly as KenPom, arguably the most trusted metric for evaluating teams, has Auburn 5th.
It is remarkable to see a team so high in the metrics that doesn’t have much going on from a resume standpoint and it makes the Tigers an extremely difficult team to evaluate. Surely there are people reading this on both sides of the “analytics” argument, and there is no team that embodies the argument more right now than Auburn who some people will look at as a dominant team, and others who think they’re just okay.
Because of the excellent metrics but weak resume, bracketologists also don’t know what to do with the Tigers. When looking at Bracket Matrix (a composite of the 85 most accurate bracketologists out there) some people have Auburn as a 2-seed, while others have them as low as a 7-seed. There isn’t another team with a range even as close to that, and it seems people on both sides of the spectrum have a reasonable argument for where they have the Tigers placed. When you look at the consensus the Tigers would be a 5th seed, and one that would be expected to go on a run in The Big Dance.
For the Gators, the important number is Auburn’s 8th ranking in the NET. This makes the game extremely valuable to the Gators from a resume standpoint and while you can debate just how good the Tigers are the NCAA’s official sorting tool is the NET–and the Gators would love to have a win over the 8th ranked team in that metric.
Last year was a bit of a down year for the Tigers relative to the high expectations that are now in place with what head coach Bruce Pearl has built, though even in their “down” year they were a 9-seed who won their opening game of the NCAA Tournament against Iowa. Returning a number of pieces from that roster the Tigers were picked to finish 6th in the SEC Preseason Poll and they’re currently ahead of schedule in second place right now, though as we’ve noted–they haven’t exactly been taking down the best teams in the league.
Leading the way has been Johni Broome who is currently playing like one of the best players in the country. According to KenPom he is not just the current SEC Player Of The Year, but the 3rd best player in the entire country. Broome has clear All-American buzz and the Gators will see him featured just as he was last year when he had 14 points and 11 rebounds against them. Currently Broome is averaging 15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game operating as the offensive hub for the Tigers. Mostly getting his work done in the low post he’s a threat to score whenever he catches the ball while also keeping his head on a swivel to find cutters and open shooters. While his offensive numbers are good–that’s not even the best aspect of his game. Broome has been dominant on the defensive end, shoring up the paint in Auburn’s 4th ranked defense (according to KenPom) in a fashion similar to what the Gators once had in Kevarrius Hayes. Like Hayes, Broome isn’t someone who is going to play bully ball, but he has tremendous defensive instincts that are particularly impressive when it comes to blocking shots. Currently averaging 2.3 swats per game, Broome’s block rate is also 18th in the country making him one of the game’s elite rim protectors. Since he doesn’t have a hulking frame he’s also able to fly around the perimeter when needed and he takes pride particularly when it comes to pick and roll defense where he can knock a guard off their line only to then quickly recover to the rolling big. Broome is going to cause the Gators issues on both sides of the floor and they’ll have to have game plans in mind for how they’re going to both slow him down on one end and try to play away from his defensive strengths on the other.
Broome isn’t the only player that makes Auburn’s frontcourt special as returning power forward Jaylin Williams has also been a force. He’s got a more muscular build than Williams and likes to mix it up more physically, but he contrasts it with a smooth 40% stroke from deep. Williams is the kind of below the rim banger that the Gators’ more slender frontcourt has struggled with all season and they’ll have to be aware of his savvy scoring ability particularly when Broome has the ball looking to dump it in to him.
When Auburn has been dangerous the last few years it has been due to elite guard play. This year’s team is built differently with the frontcourt leading the way offensively, but the Tigers do have an outstanding freshman in guard Aden Holloway. Holloway was one of the top recruits in the 2023 class and at 6’1”, 170 pounds and an electric downhill style of play–Auburn was the perfect fit. He has gone through some growing pains when it comes to ball security and defense but the flashes of offensive excellence are eye-popping and he seems to be getting better with each game, currently averaging 8.9 points and 3.1 assists per game.
For the Gators a key to this game will be coming out with a focused game plan after a week of rest. This is the most prep the Gators will have for any SEC opponent and it couldn’t have come against a better team because the Tigers have always found ways of picking apart Florida’s scheme. Slowing down the tremendous frontcourt of Johni Broome and Jaylin Williams will be paramount, as will be coming up with a way to score on Auburn’s 4th ranked defense.
Is Auburn more like the 5th best team in the country like KenPom would suggest, or more like the 25th best team like their resume would suggest? The Gators will soon find out.
Florida and Auburn will tip off at 3:30 PM ET on February 10th, and it will be televised on SEC Network.