Auburn has just two more games before a big road trip to Chicago to face the Illinois Fighting Illini. The first of the two is Tuesday night, when the Tigers face the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles at Auburn Arena.
KenPom.com currently ranks Tennessee Tech at No. 251 of 347, compared to Auburn's ranking of 166. Golden Eagles head coach Steve Payne only returns four players from the 2011-12 season, in which Tech finished with a 19-14 record, going 9-4 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Tennessee Tech boasts a 6-4 record for 2012 -- 4-1 at home, but 2-3 on the road. The Golden Eagles look to senior swingman Jud Dillard (6'5, 190) this season as their leader. He shot 52.3 percent from the floor (17.7 ppg) and 82.4 percent from the free throw line last year and led the OVC in rebounds with 8.7 per game. In the first 10 games of the year, he has started nine and is currently shooting 48.6 percent from the floor, 35.1 percent from behind the arc and 82.1 percent from the free throw line. The second-leading scorer for the Golden Eagles is junior guard Jeremiah Samarrippas (5'10, 170) -- 40.9 percent from the field, 40.8 percent from three and 72.7 percent from the free throw line.
Junior forward Dennis Ogbe (6'7, 220), senior center Terrell Barnes (6'7, 275) and sophomore guard Javon McKay (6'5, 195) round out the projected starting lineup. Look for redshirt freshman guard Lanerryl Johnson (6'0, 175) to come in from the bench. He was named OVC co-freshman of the week on Monday after the Golden Eagles' 69-58 win against Milkwaukee on Dec. 15.
The Tigers are starting to come alive with the return of junior guard Chris Denson (6'2, 175). In two games since gaining academic eligibility, Denson has made 75 percent of his shots and is averaging 15.0 points per game. Thanks in large part to Denson, the offense is no longer solely dependent on senior guard Frankie Sullivan (6'1, 206). While Sullivan remains second in scoring in the SEC (17.7 ppg), senior forward Noel Johnson (6'6, 205) and freshman guard Jordan Price (6'5, 225) have garnered conference honors of their own. Johnson leads the conference, making 48.6 percent of his shots from the behind the three-point line, connecting on 17 of 32 attempts. Price was named SEC freshman of the week on Monday for his back-to-back performances against Grambling State and Furman. In both games, he was 5 of 6 from the field, 4 of 4 from behind the arc.
Freshman guard Shaquille Johnson (6'5, 210) with his 39-inch vertical jump, is averaging just over 15 mins per game. Junior Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0, 230) leads the team with 15 blocks on the season and is averaging 14.8 minutes per game.
Tony Barbee has had seven different lineups in the first nine games of the year. The lineup has only been consistent for the last two games and expected to remain the same against Tennessee Tech. The projected starters are Sullivan, Rob Chubb, Allen Payne, Denson and Johnson.
Barbee, on Tennessee Tech:
"Tennessee Tech is a good team. They played well at some tough places to play. They are very similar to the Furman team we played the other night in that they have guys who can shoot it from multiple positions. So, we are going to have to guard the 3-point line very, very well. Unlike Furman, they have a guy in (Jud) Dillard who is averaging 19 points a game and is capable of going off for 30. They have an individual talent who can take over a game so we are going to have to pay attention to him and make the game hard on him."