What to Know: No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 5 Auburn

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    (Photo via Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics)

    For the second time in as many years, the Vols will be playing for the SEC Tournament title.

    No. 3 seed Tennessee (29-4, 15-3 SEC) will play No. 5 seed Auburn (25-9, 11-7 SEC) to determine who is the SEC Tournament champion at 1:00 PM Eastern on Sunday. The two teams just played each other almost exactly a week ago in the regular season finale down in Auburn, Alabama. The Tigers rallied in the second half and came away with an 84-80 victory to spoil the Vols’ hopes of winning a share of the SEC regular season title.

    Now, Auburn will be looking to keep Tennessee from winning yet another SEC championship this season.

    The Vols took down six-seed Mississippi State on Friday night then stormed back late in the second half to beat two-seed Kentucky on Saturday. Auburn beat 12-seed Missouri on Thursday, took out four-seed South Carolina on Friday, and defeated eight-seed Florida on Saturday to make it to the title game.

    Tennessee will be taking on former head coach Bruce Pearl once again, and this time he’s standing between them and an outright championship. The Vols are 4-3 all-time against Pearl since he took the Auburn job, but he and his Tigers have won two-straight games against UT.

    Auburn hasn’t won the SEC Tournament since 1985. Tennessee hasn’t won it since 1979. Neither head coach of either team has ever won the SEC Tournament title. Either way, history will be made on Sunday.

    Here’s everything you need to know about the 2019 SEC Tournament Championship Game.

    Three Ball, Anyone?

    If there’s one thing everyone knows about Auburn, it’s that they love to shoot the three. But that’s been even more true over the last week of play.

    Since the Tigers played Tennessee to end the regular season, they’ve been jacking up three-pointers at an even higher rate than usual. Auburn shot 29 threes against Florida on Saturday in the SEC Tournament semifinals, and that was actually the lowest total they’ve shot from three since they attempted 25 threes against Alabama on March 5th.

    Auburn took 34 three-pointers against Tennessee on March 9th, and they shot the exact same amount of threes in their wins over Missouri and South Carolina in the SEC Tournament. Three-pointers have accounted for 60.1 percent of Auburn’s overall field goal attempts over their last four games.

    And the Tigers have been making those threes, too.

    In those four games, Auburn has connected on 38.9 percent of their three-pointers. The Tigers have made at least 12 threes in four-straight games, and they’re averaging 75.8 points per game in that stretch.

    Bryce Brown and Jared Harper are the two players most likely to jack up a three for the Tigers, but Auburn features a roster where almost anyone can (and will) shoot a three. Six different Tigers have attempted at least 90 three-pointers on the season.

    Don’t Have a Repeat

    The last time these two teams played, the Vols got taken out of their style of play and tried to play like Auburn in the second half. The result was an 84-80 loss on the road.

    This time, Tennessee needs to play their brand of basketball.

    The Vols attempted 28 three-pointers against Auburn when these two teams played in Auburn Arena last Saturday, and UT only got to the free throw line 16 times. The Tigers, meanwhile, took 24 shots from the charity stripe and connected on more (19) than the Vols even attempted in the game.

    In Tennessee’s four losses this season, they’ve been out-shot at the free throw line by opponents by nearly a two-to-one margin. The four times the Vols have lost this season, their opponents have attempted a combined 122 free throws. Tennessee has only attempted 67 in those four games. Not only that, but the Vols are averaging 25.5 three-pointers attempted in those four games. In their 29 wins, Tennessee is attempting just 18.2 three-pointers a game.

    If the Vols want to avoid what happened a week ago when they last played Auburn, they can’t make the same mistakes they did during that game.

    Fourth Game in Four Days

    Tennessee will be playing their third game in three days, but Auburn is about to play their fourth game in four days.

    The Tigers are the fifth seed in the SEC Tournament, meaning they just missed out on the last double-bye of the tournament. That last double-bye went to South Carolina, and Auburn promptly eliminated the Gamecocks when the two played in the quarterfinals on Friday.

    Auburn has continued to win, but it’s apparent by looking at the stats that they’re starting to wear down a little.

    The Tigers’ scoring output has dwindled with each game in the SEC Tournament, and so has their shooting percentage.

    In their first game of the tournament, Auburn scored 81 points against Missouri. They scored 73 against South Carolina, then they totaled 65 against Florida. Similarly, Auburn’s shooting percentage was 45.8 percent against Missouri, 44.7 percent vs. South Carolina, and 44.6 percent against Florida. The Tigers’ free throw attempts are also on a similar trajectory, as they went from taking 19 against Missouri and 21 against South Carolina to just five when they faced Florida.

    Auburn has also gotten progressively worse at winning the rebounding battle. The Tigers out-rebounded Missouri 33-32, then they got out-rebounded by South Carolina 33-26. Florida dominated Auburn on the boards, grabbing 32 rebounds compared to just 17 by the Tigers.

    Interestingly, Auburn’s three-point shooting percentage has actually gone up over the course of the tournament. The Tigers made 35.3 percent of their threes vs. Missouri, 38.2 percent against South Carolina, and 44.8 percent when they took on Florida.

    How much will fatigue play into Auburn’s performance on Sunday? The Vols will certainly be tired after their physical match-up with Kentucky and having to play their third game in a 40-hour span. So fatigue may be a factor for both squads.

    Austin Wiley is “Back”

    When Tennessee last played Auburn, big man Austin Wiley was absent. The 6-foot-11, 260-pound center has played for the Tigers in the SEC Tournament, but he’s only done so very sparingly.

    Wiley returned to action in Auburn’s match-up with South Carolina in the quarterfinals after missing nearly a month of action. He last played against Kentucky on February 23rd before taking the court on Friday. He played three minutes and made his only field goal attempt against the Gamecocks while also pulling down a rebound. Wiley also played three minutes against Florida and scored two points and had an assist.

    How much will Wiley play against the Vols? Will he still play just a handful of minutes, or is he ready to be more of a factor? Auburn is 17-6 when Wiley plays and 8-3 when he doesn’t, so their winning percentage is about the same either way.

    Tournament Admiral

    Over the last two years, Admiral Schofield has found another gear when it comes to the postseason.

    Counting the Vols’ three games in the SEC Tournament and two games in the NCAA Tournament last year, Schofield is averaging 17.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in tournament play over the last two seasons. Schofield is shooting 47.7 percent from three in his seven tournament games over the last two seasons as well.

    The senior forward/guard has scored at least 20 points in both of Tennessee’s SEC Tournament games this year and has made six of his 10 three-pointers he’s attempted.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.