Miami has yet to face off against a player quite like Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr.
The superstar freshman and second-team All-America has led the Tigers to their first regular-season conference championship since 2018, averaging 17.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game this year. Smith is considered by many to be a top prospect in the upcoming 2022 NBA Draft.
“He’s a very talented player, but we’re going to have a game plan for him,” Miami veteran forward Sam Waardenburg said. “We’re going to have a game plan for all of them, and we’re going to be ready.”
Smith plays alongside 7-foot-1 sophomore forward Walker Kessler, forming a very formidable Auburn (28-5) frontcourt. Kessler, who leads the country in blocked shots per game with an average of 4.64 blocks, was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year as well as earning a spot on the third-team All-America team.
“[Kessler] rebounds. He blocks shots. He alters shots as well,” UM head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Jabari is the perfect complement, a tremendous shooter, a very athletic 6-foot-10 Kevin Durant type player and the two of them together give them a one-two punch that most teams just don’t have.”
The duo of Kessler and Smith scored 33 points and grabbed 24 rebounds in Auburn’s first-round win against Jacksonville State.
In contrast to the Tigers, Miami prefers to attack teams with its backcourt. The guard trio of Charlie Moore, Isaiah Wong and Kameron McGusty combined for 50 of UM’s 68 points in its first-round victory over Southern California.
Wong, despite fouling out late in the second half, was particularly excellent against the Trojans, scoring the Hurricanes’ first 13 points and finishing with a game-high of 22 points.
“[Isaiah] is probably one of the better guards when it comes to scoring on his man,” McGusty said. “He’s a great player and he’s done a lot of good stuff for us this year. I just hope he stays confident and he continues to help us in the ways he has this season throughout the tournament.”
With a Round of 32 victory over Auburn, Miami would advance to its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2016, when it lost a 92-69 blowout to eventual champion Villanova.
“[Auburn’s] a big team. They have a lot of size. They can switch. They’re versatile, athletic, they play fast. They’re a good team,” McGusty said. “They definitely give teams a challenge, their scoring, their defense. It’s going to be a good game. I feel like we can match up with them … If we just stick to our game plan and do what we’re supposed to do, we can definitely give them a run for their money.”
Miami and Auburn will battle on Sunday at 7:45 p.m. at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina.