SALT LAKE CITY — One team has a lengthier NCAA Tournament tradition. The other has greater name recognition as a member of a Power Five conference.
That's what New Mexico State and Auburn bring to Vivint Arena on Thursday as the two teams meet in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The No. 5-seed Tigers and No. 12-seed Aggies will tip at 11:30 a.m. MDT on TNT in the first NCAA game in Salt Lake City.
Both teams are coming in on extensive winning streaks: New Mexico State has won 19 straight games, while Auburn has eight straight victories. Both teams won their respective conference tournaments. It was the first SEC Tournament championship for Auburn since 1985.
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl has respect for his counterpart at New Mexico State, Aggies second-year head coach Chris Jans, who was named WAC Coach of the Year.
"I know Chris Jans," Pearl said in a news release. "I know his teams play really hard. They're very athletic. They play in an underrated conference. Of course, we're the dreaded 5-12 game. We're going to celebrate a championship tonight. The coaches will get together, and we'll go work on New Mexico State."
New Mexico State (30-4) set a program record for single-season wins behind a balanced team effort led by All-WAC first-team guard Terrell Brown and All-WAC second-team forward Eli Chuha.
The Aggies are making their 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance, a history that includes four Sweet Sixteen appearances and reaching the Final Four in 1970. More recently, they’ve dominated the WAC, winning the league tournament and automatic NCAA bid seven of the past eight years. New Mexico State's last NCAA win, though, came in 1992.
Auburn (26-9), known more for its football program, is making its second straight NCAA appearance and 10th overall, with four Sweet Sixteen appearances and once reaching the Elite Eight in 1986.
The Tigers are seeing a resurgence under Pearl in his fifth season at Auburn and are led by All-SEC second-team guards Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, who both average over 15 points per game.
Thursday’s victor will face the winner of No. 4-seed Kansas and No. 13 Northeastern in Saturday’s Midwest Region second-round action. If the Aggies were to win, the second round could feature a rematch from nonconference play. New Mexico State lost to Kansas 63-60 on Dec. 8 in a game where the Aggies led by as many as seven points in the second half.
No. 5 Auburn (26-9, 11-7) vs. No. 12 New Mexico State (30-4, 15-1), Midwest Region
- Auburn: Bryce Brown, 15.7 ppg; Chuma Okeke, 6.6 rpg; Jared Harper, 5.8 apg
- New Mexico State: Terrell Brown, 11.3 ppg; Eli Chuha, 6.7 rpg; AJ Harris, 3.4 apg
Best winsComment on this story
- Auburn: Auburn 88, Washington 66; Auburn 76, Florida 62; Auburn 80, Mississippi State 75; Auburn 84, Tennessee 64
- New Mexico State: New Mexico State 89, Grand Canyon 57; New Mexico State 83, Utah Valley 78
- Auburn: NC State 78, Auburn 71; South Carolina 80, Auburn 77
- New Mexico State: Drake 66, New Mexico State 63; Cal Baptist 82, New Mexico State 76
- Auburn: The Tigers are among the nation’s best at forcing turnovers. Auburn has forced its opponents into 599 turnovers so far this season, an average of 17.6 per game.
- New Mexico State: The Aggies have six players who average 7.5 points or more per game and nine who average 5.6 points or more.