The Auburn Men's Basketball team gave Head Coach Tony Barbee some good news last Saturday when they delivered a season high 88 points against Mississippi State. However, just when this team found their offensive stride, the defensive horse the Tigers had been riding all season went south.
Auburn's strength heretofore has been a tough tenacious defense. But on a Saturday night in Starkville the Tigers gave up 91, losing the game to the No.22 Bulldogs by 3 points.
Coach Barbee, while happy with the blossoming offense, was naturally disappointed with the loss. "Obviously, you can't give up 91 and win the game. We have been better than this defensively all year long. Just as our offense comes, we (seem to) lose what has made us all season long."
Still there were a lot of positives in the loss. In addition to scoring the most points on the season, the Tigers out rebounded State and out shot them 42-28 in the paint. The brightest positive came in ball handling as Auburn tied a school record with the fewest turnovers (3) since the benchmark was originally set in 1970 against Georgia.
The Tigers have shown improvement in almost every game since an embarrassing loss to Vanderbilt on Jan.7th. But the record doesn't show just how far this team has come. They are 13-9 and 3-6 in league play. Yet the Tigers easily could have been 6-3, having lost three SEC games by a combined total of 13 points - losing at Arkansas by three, an overtime loss at LSU by seven, and a three point defeat at the buzzer to Arkansas.
Now the Tigers have a tough assignment ... beat their arch rival Alabama tonight at 8 p.m. in the Arena. Can they do it?
On paper the task looks daunting.
Auburn's new found offense is sure to be tested by one of the best defenses in the nation. The Tide (15-7) has held it's opponents to 37.3 percent shooting while allowing only 57.9 points per game.
Added to that will be the challenge of defending Bama's frontcourt led by JaMychal Green who is averaging 14 points per game. Those guys have only been outscored in the paint one time the entire season. That's the bad news.
The good news is ...
Auburn's defense is pretty good too; holding opponents to 40 percent shooting per game while out rebounding the competition, holding an edge in block shots, and turnover margins. In addition, Auburn has found it's offensive mojo, with Varez Ward averaging almost 18 points per game in the last three outings. And of course the most important stat of all is a 12 -1 home record in the Auburn Arena.
So can Auburn beat Alabama tonight? Yes they can. Will they do it? I don't know. But I know one thing - the house will be loud and rocking as the Tigers take the court to do battle with the Tide for the 144th time.
Go Tigers Beat Bama!
(Note: Fans can view the game at ESPNU and at ESPN.com. The audio can be heard on the Auburn Radio Network or at auburntigers.com)