With the season teetering on the brink, Auburn and Ole Miss square off Saturday night at Auburn Arena. After a 2-0 start to conference play, the Tigers have lost three-straight games and desperately need to stop the bleeding.
The Rebels currently hold the longest winning streak in league play and their first 5-0 start in SEC play since 1936-37. Granted, the non-conference slate told us very little about the team. Ole Miss was expected to make a lot of noise in the Diamond Head Classic in December but lost the first game in overtime to Indiana State, 87-85. The SEC is definitely down this season in basketball. The only ranked teams at this point are Florida (top ten) and Ole Miss (top 25). Kenpom.com currently lists Florida at no. 1, Ole Miss at no. 22 and Auburn at no. 167.
The projected starting lineup for the Tigers includes junior forward Allen Payne (6'6, 215), senior center Rob Chubb (6'10, 250), freshman guard Shaquille Johnson (6'5, 210), senior guard Josh Wallace (5'10, 170), and senior guard Frankie Sullivan (6'1, 206). Junior guard (6'2, 175) Chris Denson and freshman guard Jordan Price (6'5, 225) returned from injuries in the Kentucky game, but both still seemed to be hobbled against the Wildcats and in the following contest against Vanderbilt. Senior forward Noel Johnson (6'6, 205) and freshman guard Brian Greene Jr. (6'3, 205) will be in the regular rotation, and according to an article from Joel Erickson, there could be a chance to see junior Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0, 230) join Chubb on the floor instead of subbing in for him.
Ole Miss' projected starters are senior forward Murphy Holloway (6'7, 240), senior forward Reginald Buckner (6'9, 235), sophomore guard Ladarius White (6'6, 210), sophomore guard Jarvis Summers (6'3, 184), and junior guard Marshall Henderson (6'2, 175). Most likely to come off the bench are senior guard and Mobile native Nick Williams (6'4, 212) and sophomore forward Aaron Jones (6'9, 218). Henderson leads the SEC in scoring, averaging 19.6 points per game, and is sixth in the country with an average of 3.9 made three-point shots per game. Henderson and Holloway may take the most shots (258, 203 attempts, respectively), but Buckner is more accurate, making good on 64.2 percent from the field. Holloway is at 55.7 percent and Henderson is making 39.5 percent from the field. Henderson is knocking down 36.1 percent of his shots from behind the arc and is followed closely by Williams at 34.4 percent. However, Henderson takes many more threes (194-61).
With eight players on the roster shooting 70 percent or better from the free throw line, it is imperative for Auburn to foul less and to make shots when the Tigers are fouled. Ole Miss is coming averaging 81.3 points per game, with a scoring margin of +17.2 over opponents. As a team, the Rebels are shooting 44.3 percent from the field, 31.9 percent from the perimeter and 69.0 percent from the free throw line, and the Rebels typically out-rebound their opponents with by 3.4 per game. By limiting turnovers to 12.1 per game, Ole Miss averages a +5.6 takeaway margin.
Auburn's numbers across the board fall short compared to the Rebels. The Tigers put up roughly 68.4 points per game, making 42.9 percent of their shots from the field and 34.6 percent from behind the arc. Auburn may seem to have the edge over Ole Miss from the perimeter, but they also went an entire game without making one in the last home contest Kentucky. Free throw shooting continues to plague the Tigers, as it did last season, with a current percentage of 67.4 percent. The Tigers are only pulling down 35.8 boards per game and turning the ball over at a rate of 14.4 per contest.
The keys to the game are obvious: get stops against Henderson on the outside and Holloway and Buckner on the inside. For the love of all things orange and blue, foul less, and when fouled, hit free throws. If a free throw is missed, at least pull down the rebound and get on the board. The only way out of this game is to fight the way Barbee loves most: intense physicality on both sides of the ball and somehow converting every garbage ball into offensive gold. It will take more than fight and heart to best the Rebels, and while the Tigers are capable, they are still unknown in their ability to win a big game when it matters the most. Hard fought games against Illinois and Arkansas offered promise, but it is time to deliver a W. Conference play is in full swing and the road from here only gets harder. God speed, Tigers.
Tony Barbee on Ole Miss
"Ole Miss has a bunch of guys that probably for us, they see a guy like Frankie Sullivan and say 'How long has that guy been there? It seems like he's been there for 10 years.' That's the same thing with Ole Miss with (Murphy) Holloway, (Reginald) Buckner and (Nick) Williams. Those guys seem like they have been there forever. They are a fantastic frontline, not just the best in the conference but in the country. (Jarvis) Summers is just solid at the point, and what (Marshall) Henderson has brought to their team has just been immense. Not only do they have one of the best frontlines in the country, but they have a dynamic scorer who is capable of going and getting 40 at any point. That is why they are undefeated in the league and one of the best teams in the conference."