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Hindsight is 20/20 - The Xavier Game

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Take Off, Aye...

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

I take my kids down to an Auburn game every year around Christmas so they can sit in the student section, get pictures with Aubie, and enjoy a ballgame.

Usually we choose the $10 bleacher seats, which is awesome by the way that they let the public do that when the students are gone,  and have lots of room to stretch out.

But Saturday, the bleachers and the rest of the Auburn arena was near capacity.  And the game did not disappoint.

Xavier jumped out to a big lead at the half, much in part to really solid perimeter defense and an inside-out game that gave the Auburn defense fits.  Cinmeon Bowers getting in early foul trouble didn't help much.

Xavier is a very good basketball team.  They have good big guys who can score on the post and pass to the perimeter for open threes if a double team comes.

The Musketeers made their threes in the first half.  Combine that with Auburn's all too familiar disappearing act on the offensive end, and things looked pretty bleak for the orange and blue.

But Auburn kept scrapping, clawing, and willing their way back into the game.  Freshman Trayvon Reed was a huge asset defensively, altering shots and hanging tough on the post with the big-bodied Xavier forwards.  The double teams weren't as essential with him guarding the post.  The open looks for Xavier dried up.

And Malcolm Canada.  Oh Canada.

The forgotten senior played out of his mind Saturday, taking the ball to the basketball relentlessly against some very good guards for Xavier.   Let's not forget at 6'4", he was able to successfully guard the post,  guarding a 6'10". Malcolm's big  defensive hustle play made the difference in the Auburn comeback.  His save which turned into a Bowers slam had the Auburn Arena rocking.   That place can be really loud, by the way.  It will be a very tough place to go play if Auburn is competitive.  Canada later  made clutch free throws to give Auburn the 1 point victory in double  overtime against another likely NCAA tournament team.

The only negatives I can come up with are free throw shooting.  If Auburn makes free throws in this game they win by 8 or so.  That has to improve.

We saw Antoine Mason get his backside handed to him by Bruce Pearl after a bad turnover on an entry pass to Bowers.  Bowers was wide open for about  three seconds, and Mason waited until he was covered before making a lousy telegraphed pass.   Pearl wasn't pleased, and we didn't see the former nation's leading scorer again.

The thing I took from Saturday is with a deeper bench, Auburn has a great chance to make some noise in the SEC this year.  Can Auburn beat Kentucky?  Not likely.  Then again,  the Memphis Grizzlies would probably get all they want from the Wildcats.  But I believe Auburn can play with every one else in the conference, and I include Florida in that group.   Auburn has really good guards that can play with anyone and maybe the best rebounder in the league in Bowers.   Reed gives depth and a shot blocking/altering presence that AU desperately needs.

Mostly, I am excited about the enthusiasm at Auburn right now.  In years past, you would be lucky to see 300 at a home game during Christmas break.  I cannot wait for an SEC game at home.