Auburn and DePaul meet for the first time ever in the SEC/Big East Challenge at Auburn Arena on Friday evening. DePaul has a 3-3 record, with its most recent game resulting in an 85-78 win over Fairfield earlier this week. Auburn is 2-4, suffering two consecutive heartbreaking losses against Boston College in the final seconds and Rhode Island in double overtime. Last season, DePaul was 12-19 overall and 3-15 in Big East play.
Oh, Auburn. In the game against the Rams, the Tigers had 19 turnovers. Auburn had the chance to ice the game late in the first overtime with two free throws but instead split the pair, allowing Rhode Island an opportunity to tie the game, of which it took advantage. When asked about the game, Tony Barbee acknowledged his team has plenty of areas that need improvement:
"I mean we have a week to prepare for DePaul, so the focus is going to be on us, because we have some major issues. We can't take care of the ball, sloppy with the ball, can't get into our offense, not efficient offensively, and we don't know what we're looking for. Defensively, we're just five separate guys out there trying to guard. We're not guarding as one, we're just five separate guys. We had more breakdowns on the defensive end of the floor. It's a disappointing loss, but we have a lot of season left."
Junior forward Cleveland Melvin and junior guard Brandon Young lead Oliver Purnell's Blue Demons. Melvin (6'8, 208) is averaging 20.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, and he scored 30 points against Fairfeld. Young (6'4, 199) is not far behind with 16.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. Other expected starters include junior forward Donnavan Kirk (6'9, 223), freshman guard Durrell McDonals (6'1, 171) and sophomore guard Charles McKinney (6'3, 183). Look for junior forward Moses Morgan (6'6, 223) and senior guard Worrel Clahar (5'11, 186) to come off the bench. Melvin was voted to the preseason All-Big East second team. Based on previous games this year, Melvin and Young are poised to have good nights offensively, and Morgan could be the spark off the bench that keeps the offense going.
The Blue Demons best the Tigers in scoring offense averages (76.0 to 59.8) and scoring defense averages (63.5 to 70.0). Given the fact Auburn had 19 turnovers against Rhode Island, it will be interesting to see what comes of the matchup against the Demons. Currently, DePaul averages 14.0 per game with a turnover margin of +3.8. Auburn comes in with 15.2 per game on average and a margin of +1.0. Barbee had the following to say about the Blue Demons:
"DePaul is a very aggressive, pressing team. That is what their coach, Oliver Purnell, is known for with his teams he had at Clemson. They really get after it. We are going to see a variety of presses. They are really aggressive out of it trying to get steals and trying to get easy baskets.
Melvin is their leading scorer averaging almost 21 points a game. He is really skilled four-three man, who can do a lot of different things. He can put it on the floor. He can shoot the three really well in the post. He is going to be a big challenge for us.
Young is a combo guard who can play the one and two spots. He is a great driver and can rise up and make threes, but he is a really good driver, getting to the basket and finishing. He is averaging 16 points a game and can really score the ball."
Auburn's expected starting lineup is as follows: junior forward Allen Payne (6'6, 215), senior forward Noel Johnson (6'6, 205), senior center Rob Chubb (6'10, 250), senior guard Frankie Sullivan (6'1, 206) and junior guard Brian Greene Jr. (6'3, 205). We can expect to see the following guys sub in: freshman guard Shaquille Johnson (6'5, 210), senior guard Josh Wallace (5'10, 170), freshman guard Jordan Price (6'5, 225), junior guard Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0, 230) and junior forward Shareif Adamu (6'8, 225). We haven't seen much of freshman forward Jordon Granger (6'9, 215), but hopefully that will change tonight. Junior guard Chris Denson (6-2, 175) is still ineligible for one more day -- thank goodness December starts tomorrow -- it will be great to have his offensive spark back in the lineup.
Over the stretch of recent games, we have seen a few things that we should definitely be looking for tonight. Noel Johnson is starting to shoot and hit more threes. Meanwhile, Shaq Johnson is gaining more playing time, and hopefully tonight, he will be in the position to give the home crowd a dunk or three. There have been flashes of brilliance from Dixon-Tatum, Price and Adamu, and Barbee says they are prepared and ready for tonight:
"For us to lose to Rhode Island the way we lost the game when we kind of had it in hand and some things just didn't go our way the last few minutes of the game, we just have to bounce back. We had a great practice on Tuesday and the guys are energized. We watched fi lm and know exactly the mistakes we made. We will be ready to play."
Let's just hope to see improvement in the following areas: limiting turnovers, less fouling, consistent free throw shooting, better perimeter defense and, obviously, MORE OFFENSE. It sounds like a broken record repeating the obvious, but this team is way too talented to not win games that come down to basics. Tipoff between the Tigers and Blue Demons is set for 8 p.m. CT and tickets start at $10. The game will be televised on ESPNU and available on the radio (local Auburn Network affiliates or XM 200).