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College Hoops Today: The Super Tight SEC Tourney

March 12, 2024 | By RotoRob | comment on this post
Denver Jones is becoming a more important part of the Auburn Tigers.
Denver Jones is providing a spark to the Tigers. (Auburn University Athletics)

This week, Houston maintained its hold on the No. 1 ranking for the third straight week, and while its defense is unmatched in the nation, it’s going to have its hands full in the Big 12 tourney; Purdue honoured senior Zach Edey (who has expanded his game recently) by retiring his number after the home finale; and Drake upset Indiana State in the MVC final to earn its seventh trip to the NCAA tourney.

Denver Jones Finding His Way in Auburn

How tight is the SEC this season? Well, while Tennessee led the way with a 14-4 mark within the conference, four teams tied for second place at 13-5, including the 12th-ranked Auburn Tigers, who won three straight to end the regular season schedule.

It’s been a nice bounce back effort by Auburn with 24 wins after they won only 21 last season. Driven by a superb offense (13th best in the nation), the Tigers are headed to their third straight NCAA tourney regardless of how the SEC tourney (starting Wednesday) plays out and are currently listed at +2000 to become National champion as per odds at FanDuel.

One of the reasons Auburn got on a bit of a roll to finish the season is junior guard Denver Jones, who scored 21 points (on a career-high tying seven treys) in the finale for his fourth straight game of 10 or more points as he commands more touches down the stretch. After transferring from Florida International this season, he had to take on a much smaller role, so his touches and makes were down across the board. But it wasn’t all bad news as Jones continued to improve his outside game and had a career-best 91 per cent mark from the charity stripe.

It definitely took some time for Jones to find his place in the Auburn offense. In January, he had a stretch of seven straight games of failing to reach double-digit pointS; that must have been frustrating considering last season he led Conference USA in scoring (see video below for a taste of his work).

Depending on how things go in his senior season (assuming he returns), Jones could set himself up as a potential NBA draft choice.

Anteaters Take Aim at First NCAA Tourney in Five Years

Another conference tourney that kicks off Wednesday is the Big West, and this is one of those where only the winner will make it to the NCAA tourney, so there’s no back door into the dance here, folks.

The team to watch is the UC Irvine Anteaters, who won their last four games to take home the regular season title by two games with a 17-3 mark. With 24 wins overall, UC Irvine has its best season since 2018-19, the last time it made the NCAA tourney.

We’re curious to see how the Anteaters’ big German Bent Leuchten does this week. The team’s leading shotblocker took a step back as a junior, but has shown more offense recently, scoring 17 in the season finale (with eight boards) and putting up at least 14 in three of the last five.

Leuchten’s shooting really regressed this season, but has been better for the last month, and he attempted more treys while getting to the line more often this season.

Despite a knee woe last season, he showed dramatic progress, so this campaign has been quite a letdown. However, Leuchten can definitely help erase some of that with a strong performance in the Big West tourney. At this point, he’s an extreme longshot as an NBA prospect.

RotoRob Tune of the Day

The late, great Leonard Norman Cohen earned both the Order of Canada and National Order of Quebec for his immense body of work in music, poetry and literature. In 1975, a greatest hits packaged was released entitled The Best of Leonard Cohen, which included “Who By Fire,” originally released in 1974 on New Skin for the Old Ceremony.

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