Well, well, well. Here we are: Auburn is looking for its fourth win in a row when it hits the road Saturday to face LSU at Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The Tigers (11-9, 3-6 SEC) have won three in a row, and let's be honest: I am not even sure what to think or how to feel. Actually, I am just excited for those young men on the court. The win over South Carolina was far from pretty -- the Tigers had an impressive 16-point lead with just over 13 minutes left in the game. Six minutes later, Auburn was clinging to a one-point advantage. Auburn never relinquished the lead, which fluctuated between three, four, five and sometimes six points, but my anxiety didn't subside until the final buzzer.
Auburn was 52.5 percent from the field, 31.3 percent from beyond the arc, and a solid 80.0 percent from the foul line against the Gamecocks. South Carolina managed to hit 44.3 percent of their shots from the floor, 41.2 percent from downtown (most of which were the 6-of-10 that Brenton Williams nailed) and a lackluster 59.1 percent from the line. The Tigers were outscored in the paint, 40-36, but made up for it on points off turnovers (AU 16, SC 12). The bench managed only six points, and while that may be enough to beat a team like South Carolina, it won't do much against better teams like Kentucky and Florida. K.T. Harrell and Chris Denson each had 25, with Denson surpassing the 1,000-point career mark. Have to give a nod to Allen Payne (9 pts, 9 rebs, 2 blocks, 2 steals) for a hard-fought game. Man, oh man, that freshman point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen is growing up quick. He put up 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, four rebounds, three assists and a steal against the Gamecocks. Three Tigers played it out with four fouls: guards Harrell and Denson, and center Matthew Atewe.
And so we come to Saturday in Baton Rouge. This has to be one of the bigger games of head coach Tony Barbee's tenure at Auburn. Why do I think this game in particular? Several reasons. In four seasons under Barbee, this is the first time Auburn has won three conference games in a row. One could argue this is the most talented team Barbee has ever had, with an actual offense and a decent enough defense. Auburn has consistently struggled on the road, as well as in the paint, and LSU has a size advantage. For all Barbee's diatribes on tough, scrappy play, this is the time to showcase he is capable of leading his young men toward a victory.
LSU (14-7, 5-4 SEC) is an interesting team to consider. The Tigers' conference play has been inconsistent at best. A bad loss at home to Tennessee to open the season, 68-50, followed by a narrow win against South Carolina on the road, 71-68. They went to Oxford and managed to take the Rebels to overtime before falling, 88-74. An impressive win at home against Vanderbilt, 81-58, led to momentum for another fine showing in front of the Red Stick faithful against Missouri, 77-71. The remaining four games best tell the story of the unpredictable Bayou Bengals: a two-point loss to Alabama on the road after storming back from a 19 point deficit (82-80); a solid win against Kentucky at home in which LSU lead the entire game, by as much as 16 in the first half (87-82); a win against Arkansas at home (88-74); and a puzzling loss to Georgia on the road (91-78).
LSU is a better team at home, but then again, isn't everyone better at home? The losses to Alabama and Georgia are head-scratchers to me. I like this LSU team a lot: I think they hired the right coach in Johnny Jones, they have a star in Johnny O'Bryant and they have decent chemistry. If LSU comes out on fire at home, Auburn will have its hands full. Don't get me wrong: I have faith in our Tigers, and this is a refreshing feeling to go into a road game with optimism, but I realize it will take more than scrappy play to come out on top. Auburn has to have a solid night shooting and, obviously, defend without fouling. More than anything, Auburn has to find a way to have a monster night off the boards. That means every single player on the team needs to come away with rebounds on both ends of the court. Also, it seems to be working, so I cannot not say it: For the love, no Lee Cassell.
Kenpom.com does not share my enthusiasm, as LSU is the predicted winner with a nine-point margin, 82-73, and a our Tigers have just a 19 percent chance at the W. Auburn has moved from No. 135 to No. 127 in the rankings after the win over South Carolina, and LSU has dropped from 52 to 59 after the loss to Georgia.
Team Numbers at a Glance
|Field Goal %||.456||.453|
|Field Goal % Defense||.430||.399|
|3-Point % Defense||.379||.350|
|Free Throw %||.703||.667|
Auburn will start familiar faces: guards Shamsid-Deen (5'10, 163 pounds), Denson (6'2, 181) K.T. Harrell (6'4, 216), forward Payne (6'6, 225), and center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0, 226). As for the bench, you know these faces, too: point guard Malcolm Canada (6'3, 224), center Atewe (6'9, 250), and forwards Jordon Granger (6'8, 200), Dion Wade (6'5, 170) and Alex Thompson (6'8, 204).
LSU started the following guys against Georgia: forwards O'Bryant (6'9, 256), Shavon Coleman (6'5, 195) and Jarell Martin (6'9, 241), center Jordan Mickey (6'8, 220), and point guard Anthony Hickey (5'11, 182). Expect to see a lot of guard Andre Stringer (5'10, 190) and perhaps appearances from guard Tim Quarterman (6'5, 180), guard Malik Morgan (6'4, 199) and forward John Odo (6'9, 236).
Auburn has to have an answer for O'Bryant, an answer for Coleman, an answer for Stringer. Our Tigers have to formulate an inside game with dominant, physical, beast-out play from the bigs. ADT needs to eat someone alive in the lane. There have to be scorers who are not named Denson or Harrell. As Chris likes to say, we need to get on board the Payne train. This is Auburn's moment. If it leaves Louisiana with a win, this could be the start of something pretty crazy -- crazy meaning a season in which the Tigers break .500. IT'S DO OR DIE, TIGERS. LET'S RIDE. LIGHTS OUT. WAR DAMN. //I really need to lay off the heavy metal and kettlebells before composing posts.