Auburn vs. Mississippi State basketball preview: Desperate for a conference win

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers travel to Starkville, still in search of that elusive first SEC victory.

I need to get a few things off my chest before we go into the standard preview. Say whatever you want about Auburn not having five-star recruits. Say whatever you want about Auburn only winning at basketball when it cheats. Say whatever you want about being an Auburn fan when it is clear you only give a damn about football. Maybe it is easier to always dismiss basketball on the Plains, but it does not change the fact that those young men still wear orange and navy and attend school at Auburn University.

It does nothing to diminish the fact that they have played a lot tougher than any of us ever expected. I know they miss free throws and rebounds and shots on a recurring basis, which drives me to drink, but good grief, three of the Tigers' four conference losses have come down to the final seconds. You may not agree with me, but I firmly believe that the head coach did little to nothing to put them in a position to win at the end. There are no moral victories to proclaim, but maybe it was exciting to just see them fight a lot harder than they did last year. Maybe the onus of the conference losses should be squarely placed on the shoulders of the man who gets paid $1.5 million annually.

If Tony Barbee doesn't find a way to win this game in Starkville, I would hope that means that his time at Auburn is beginning its sunset. I scoured the 2011-12 media guide for this gem and had to laugh at the irony of "helter-skelter".

Mediaguide201112_medium

Times could be considered grim when Kenpom.com has Auburn at 159 and Mississippi State at 190, and yet, still expects Auburn to lose by two, 73-71. With a 43 percent chance at a road win and the first conference win, one has to speculate how mentally tough these Tigers are after the emotional roller coaster January has provided. Mississippi State has struggled in league play but still fared better than the Tigers with a 2-2 record. The Bulldogs fell on the road against Kentucky, 85-63, then rebounded with a win against sans Marshall Henderson Ole Miss at home, 76-72. They hit the road again and headed to Tuscaloosa, only to fall to Alabama, 80-61, before returning home and claiming an overtime win against Texas A&M, 81-72.

Auburn leads the series, 72-66, but the Tigers have lost on the road to State four times in a row. In fact, Auburn has won only once in the last 13 games at Humphrey Coliseum.

Team Numbers at a Glance

Auburn Miss St
Scoring Average 73.6 70.7
Scoring Defense 70.7 68.3
Scoring Margin +2.9 +2.4
Field Goal % .453 .455
Field Goal % Defense .428 .434
3-Point% .333 .291
3-Point% Defense .384 .323
Free Throw % .678 .719
Rebounding Average 35.8 34.3
Rebounding Margin +1.1 -0.6
Turnover Average 12.5 13.9
Turnover Margin +0.4 +2.3

Personnel

Auburn will go with its usual suspects: guards Tahj Shamsid-Deen (5'10, 163 pounds), Chris Denson (6'2, 181) and K.T. Harrell (6'4, 216), forward Allen Payne (6'6, 225), and center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0, 226). As for the bench, expect point guard Malcolm Canada (6'3, 224) to come in for TSD, center Matthew Atewe (6'9, 250) for ADT, and forwards Dion Wade (6'5, 170) and Alex Thompson (6'8, 204) for Payne. In the Saturday game against the Florida Gators, the leading scorers were Denson (21 points), Harrell (18) and Payne (11). Payne led the team with six rebounds, three steals and was the only Tiger to make all of his free throws (4-of-4).

The projected starting five for the Bulldogs are guard Fred Thomas (6'5, 204), forward Colin Borchert (6'8, 217), guard I.J. Ready (5'11, 165), forward Gavin Ware (6'9, 262) and guard Craig Sword (6'3, 193). The most notable contributor off the bench is forward Roquez Johnson (6'7, 210), followed by guards Trivante Bloodman and Jacoby Davis (6'1, 191). Sword leads the team in scoring (15.0 points per game) and Ware leads in rebounds (8.9 per game).

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