SEC Slate Set for Auburn—Tigers Open With Road Trip to Oxford
Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl has his team poised for another run at an SEC Title (AP photo)
After another stellar nonconference schedule (11–2) run, the Auburn Tigers are set to begin conference play tomorrow against Ole Miss at the Pavilion in Oxford.
Coach Bruce Pearl’s squad’s two losses have come on the road with the only true road loss coming at the hands of North Carolina State. Though Auburn didn’t play well, the loss was deceivingly closer than reality. NC State is a very good program as its 10–1 record shows. The Wolfpack are now 8–0 at home.
Ole Miss came off a 71–57 thrashing at the hands of Cincinnati and went on a tear to end its nonconference slate at 9–2, followed by an 81-71 win against Vanderbilt.
ESPN’s match-up predictor has given the Tigers a 65–35 percent advantage despite Auburns leading the Rebels in virtually every category but shooting percentage, where Ole Miss has a slight 4 percent edge. However, Auburn leads in some pretty critical areas such as blocks and steals. And the Tigers have been creating turnovers at an unprecedented rate.
In Auburn’s contest against North Florida, the Tigers turned the Ospreys over a whopping 33 times. Auburn took command of the contest after some early lead changes to run up a 95–49 victory, spreading the scoring around with five players in double figures and only two players not recording a point. Most importantly, Jared Harper wasn’t forced to score points. It is great when he does, but it typically spells doom for the Tigers if Harper is forced to become a scorer versus a scoring facilitator.
Malik Dunbar had a great night off the bench with 11 points, two blocks, two assists and five rebounds. Dunbar has done a fantastic job of becoming Auburn’s finisher when it has teams on the ropes. Danjel Purifoy is beginning to show up in the stats, but he has yet to become the force he will need to be for the Tigers to make a deep run in the SEC and the NCAA tournament.
Meanwhile, Anfernee McLemore continues to make a statement for extended playing time. He’s the forgotten man from last year, whose injury ended up being the reason Auburn melted down the stretch, and it was thought he would become a reserve player when Austin Wiley returned. Instead, McLemore continues to be a rim protector and a scorer. He added 11 points, four steals, two blocks, and eight rebounds off the bench.
Ole Miss’ Breein Tyree continues the Rebel tradition of being a one-man team. The 6′-2″ guard is averaging 18 points per game with only three assists per game. While he is shooting long balls at a career-best, he is having to stay on the court over 30 minutes per game. The 53 percent shooter only gives the ball up a couple of times a game. For Auburn to have success, all of these numbers will have to change, likely with Bryce Brown guarding Tyree. The Rebel guard has increased his time on the floor by six minutes a game the last three seasons, and he will really have to push himself against Auburn’s best defender.
That comes at a cost, of course. Bryce Brown is Auburn’s leading scorer, but when he has had to take the lead in defense, his scoring has suffered. While a battle will take place between Brown and Tyree on one side of the court, Auburn’s success in involving other players on offense will be the defining stat at the other end.
Austin Wiley has really turned up his game of late. Despite only playing 17 MPG, Wiley is averaging a third-best 13 PPG and is adding two blocks a game. Chuma Okeke is doing damage as well by adding double digit points. With Brown likely being the tip of the spear on defense, expect these two men to lead the way in scoring.
Auburn and Ole Miss tip off at 6:00 PM on ESPN2. Follow me on Twitter @Best5Zach