SALT LAKE CITY — Auburn and New Mexico State have never met on the hardwood. But they have seen each other before.
They were both in San Diego on this same weekend one year ago — Auburn to face the College of Charleston in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and New Mexico State to face Clemson.
A matchup never took place. The Tigers defeated the Cougars and the other Tigers defeated the Aggies, setting up a second-round matchup that Clemson won by 31 points to end the best Auburn basketball season in 15 years.
On Thursday, about 750 miles northwest of Viejas Arena at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, that matchup will take place. No. 5-seed Auburn will take on No. 12-seed New Mexico State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Tip is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.
It’s a matchup of two of the hottest teams in the country. The Tigers have won eight straight games since a Feb. 23 loss at Kentucky, including four in four days last week in Nashville, Tennessee, to claim the program’s first SEC Tournament championship since 1985. That’s the longest active winning streak of any major conference team.
The Aggies have won 19 straight games, which is the nation’s second-longest active winning streak behind only Wofford (20). They haven’t lost since Jan. 3. This past Saturday, the Western Athletic Conference regular-season champions won the tournament title by 32 points.
“We got a chance to see them last year when we were in San Diego,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. ”(Coach Chris Jans) does a terrific job. His kids play really hard, they’ve always been pretty athletic.
“We’ll all learn a lot about each other.”
Here’s everything you need to know about Auburn’s first-round NCAA Tournament opponent, New Mexico State:
WHAT: No. 5-seed Auburn (26-9) vs. No. 12-seed New Mexico State (30-4)
WHEN: 12:30 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
ON THE AIR: TNT
LINE: Auburn by 6.5
NEW MEXICO STATE LINEUP: G AJ Harris (5-9, Jr.) 9.6 ppg.; G Terrell Brown (6-1, Jr.) 11.3 ppg.; G Clayton Henry (6-4, Jr.) 5.6 ppg.; F C.J. Bobbitt (6-7, Jr.) 4.6 ppg.; F Eli Chuha (6-7, Sr.) 9.8 ppg.
KNOW YOUR FOE
New Mexico State is far from a national name, but it is historically a pretty successful men’s basketball program. Auburn has made the NCAA Tournament now 10 times in program history; the Aggies have made it 10 times in the last 20 years, including eight of the last nine years and three straight as WAC Tournament champions. The last two of those titles have come under Jans, who took over the program in 2017 after three years as a special assistant at Wichita State and has led New Mexico State to a 58-10 record (27-3 WAC) and back-to-back appearances in the Big Dance. The Aggies do not play a strong schedule (they ranked 239th in that metric this year), as none of their 19 straight wins have come over a team ranked better than 96th in KenPom (Utah Valley). Their four losses have come against Saint Mary’s (by 15), potential second-round opponent Kansas (three), Drake (three), and Cal Baptist (six). New Mexico State ranks 40th in NET and 49th in KenPom (Auburn ranks 18th and 13th) and is looking for its first NCAA Tournament win since 1993.