Out-of-conference play is over, and it's time for Auburn to tip off SEC action. The Tigers host LSU at Auburn Arena Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the conference opener for both teams.
The non-conference records tell a two very different tales -- Auburn comes in with a 6-7 record and LSU sits at 9-2. LSU's only losses were to Boise State, 89-70, and Marquette, 84-80, both decent teams. The Tigers' most notable win was against Seton Hall, 72-67, in the SEC-Big East Challenge. The rest of LSU's non-conference slate -- McNeese State, Houston Baptist, Bethune-Cookman, to name a few -- doesn't tell us very much about the Bayou Bengals.
Ken Pomeroy has Auburn ranked at 159 and LSU at 101, and Pomeroy predicts the purple-and-gold Tigers to win by a point.
Johnny Jones, a former LSU player and assistant coach, returns home as head coach. Jones's coaching career began at LSU as student assistant and included stints at Memphis and Alabama before landing his first head coaching position at North Texas. With Jones at the helm, North Texas went from an average of five wins per season in the previous four years to 21 wins per season over the last six years. In his 11 seasons at UNT, Jones's teams went 190-146 to make place him at No. 2 on the school's all-time wins list. Known for his up-tempo pace, the Mean Green were the Sun Belt's highest scoring offense in the last two seasons and were among the top 50 in the nation in field goal percentage offense, rebounding margin and defensive three-point field goal percentage.
The projected starting five for LSU are junior forward Shavon Coleman (6'5, 195), senior center Andrew Del Piero (7'3, 254), senior guard Charles Carmouche (6'4, 187), freshman guard Corban Collins (6'3, 192) and junior guard Andre Stringer (5'9, 178). Coleman, a JUCO from Howard (Texas) is averaging just over 14 points per game and ranks fourth in the SEC for rebounds per game with an average of 8.6. There is plenty of offense to be found on this squad -- former Memphis Tiger Carmouche averages 9.8 ppg and had 15 points and 10 rebounds against Marquette. Stringer, with 20 points against Marquette, averages 11.7 ppg.
Look to the bench for sophomore Johnny O'Bryant III (6'9, 262) and sophomore guard Anthony Hickey (5'11, 182). O'Bryant, the highly regarded five-star recruit who saw diminished playing time last season due to a broken hand, can score (12.0 ppg) but more importantly, he can rebound (7.6 rpg, sixth in the SEC) and draw the foul. Last year, O'Bryant drew an average of five fouls per 40 minutes, but he only made 39 percent of his free throws. Hickey leads the team in assists (4.0 per game) and contributes on average 10.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest.
Del Piero, who would make his seventh straight start, is a former walk-on and should be an intriguing matchup against senior Rob Chubb and junior Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0, 230) down low. Del Piero has the size but is a relative newcomer to basketball (you've probably heard he was a tuba player in the marching band). Chubb (6'10, 250) has the mass and ADT has the height, but Chubb struggles with consistency and ADT is just beginning to understand his reach.
Stringer (27-of-64) and Collins (10-of-19) can both nail a three. Hickey leads the team in steals -- 32 on the season -- and is followed by Carmouche with 26. Stringer and Carmouche both shoot over 70 percent from the free throw line (72.7 and 75.6, respectively). As a team, the Bayou Bengals are averaging 77.2 points per game with a 45.1 field goal percentage, 36.4 three-point percentage and 60.7 free throw percentage.
Bump those stats up against Auburn's numbers so far -- 68.9 ppg, 42.0 field goal percentage, 32.3 three point percentage and 69.7 free throw percentage -- and LSU would appear have the offensive advantage. The numbers may closely favor the bad Tigers, but we'd like to think the recent outings against Illinois and FSU have elevated team play. Auburn should be able to find victory, but expect it to be uglier than orange-and-blue fans would like.
"It is always a big adjustment when you lose two guys that are averaging 22-23 points between the two of them ... our second leading scorer (Denson) and probably our best 3-point shooter in Jordan Price. It is always an adjustment but I think every coach talks about the same thing with their team. There is a group of guys on the end of the bench who probably aren't getting as many minutes or the time or the opportunity that they think they deserve or expect. We always talk about being ready for your opportunity whenever it comes. We had some guys that stepped up with those two guys being out, and they are going to have to continue to step up. Those two will probably be out for the majority of the month of January and so some of the guys who got the opportunity and played well against Florida State are going to have to continue to play well as we start league play."
How does LSU look different from previous years and what defensive challenges do they pose?
"Probably the biggest difference from watching them on tape is the pace of play. They are playing at a higher speed than they have the last few years. That's Johnny's (Jones) style and his philosophy. They are pushing the pace very well and scoring at an efﬁcient clip, almost 80 points a game. Obviously, the addition of (Shavon) Coleman, who is their leading scorer and leading rebounder, has made them different. They have that versatile forward along that frontline. One thing they do, they shoot the ball well from the perimeter and when you have Coleman down low and big Johnny (O'Bryant III) down low, you have those guys shooting the ball on the perimeter the way they have been shooting it all year. It's not like you can just say we have to defend inside, and you will be okay or guard the 3-point line, and you will be okay because they do both at a very efﬁcient level. They present a lot of challenges, but the game is at home and we talk about taking care of our homecourt, and this is another opportunity to do that."
On starting SEC play
"We are excited about starting league play at home against a very good LSU team. We are excited that our students are going to be back. The crowd is going to be energized. The student section is going to be packed and going crazy. We are excited about the opportunities that the league presents, but it also presents a lot of challenges obviously with the addition of the two new teams. With LSU playing really, really well with a 9-2 record and having to travel to South Carolina, it will be a challenging week. We seem to be playing our best basketball of the year so we are hoping we are ready for it."