It hasn't been all sunshine for Auburn hoops (10-9, 2-4 SEC) in the last week, but once again Auburn Arena will be the loudest home court in the Southeast as the Texas A&M Aggies (13-5, 4-2 SEC) come to town to face a Bruce Pearl team looking to make a statement in the SEC.
Having lost in a rather embarrasing fashion to Mississippi State at home last week and a close one to Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday evening, Pearl and the gang need to come away with a win tonight. While Auburn's season is certainly too early to be declared DOA by the time the SEC Tournament rolls around, fans will certainly feel better about sitting at 11-9 rather than hitting a mediocre .500 at this point in the schedule. A win against a very good Texas A&M team at home can send a message to not only the rest of the conference, but to Auburn basketball fans as well who have witnessed two less-than-stellar finishes from the Tigers.
It bears repeating at this point in the season that fans should not expect a miracle basketball turnaround a la Gus Malzahn and the 2013 Auburn Tigers football team. Auburn is progressing slowly, but surely. However, for long-time fans of Auburn hoops, excellence is to be expected at all times, and Bruce Pearl could not have a better group of fans behind him to rally the Tigers as a cold January comes to a close. A 9-2 home record is a solid testament to this fact.
The Aggies are riding some very strong momentum this week, having beaten their last four SEC opponents in consecutive games—including the Mississippi State Bulldogs that shocked the Tigers at home last week with outstanding shooting. The Aggies will bring a strong shooting threat behind junior guard Jalen Jones, who is averaging just over 14 points per game and 6.4 rebounds. Also at guard for the Aggies is Alex Caruso, who was 100% from the arc (3-3) against Tennessee on Saturday. Both players will lead an offense that has averaged 67.5 points over the last four games.
Auburn needs to win. Period. While we still have time before March warms up, games like this one not only bolster the resume and boost the rankings, but they also build character. Bruce Pearl will need to draw up a solid game plan to defend a potentially deadly shooting attack from the Aggies, but he will also need to engineer an emotional advantage to get his team back on track in the SEC. Luckily, the A&M yell leaders will not be traveling with the team, so there will be no distracting hand signals from the men in white to worry about, nor a loose Border Collie prancing around outside concessions.
The loss to Alabama this weekend still stings for many fans, and rightly so. A win tonight will get the Tigers and the fans back on track to competing in the SEC, which at this point in the season is still very open. Three teams stand in front of Auburn, each at 3-3 in the conference—Florida, Ole Miss, and Alabama. This is a very pivotal game for Auburn, and a seasoned coach like Pearl certainly understands what is to be gained from a win.
It goes without saying, but look for Cinmeon Bowers to aim for another double-double at home. If KT Harrell and Antoine Mason can consistently drive hard to the basket, expect a few and-1's to come Auburn's way. Hopefully we'll see a better performance from Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who has been battling a shoulder injury the last two games. If the Tigers can play productive, fast-paced basketball and limit the turnovers and open shots that plagued them against the Bulldogs, Auburn should earn a hard-fought win against a good Aggie team, and for those fans who have labeled Pearl's offense "conservative," perhaps we'll see a more direct attack at the basket tonight. "Finishing the drill," however, will be key for the Tigers, who weren't able to do so in a rowdy Coleman Coliseum after blowing a comfortable lead against the Tide.
Don't forget to tweet during the game to be included in our post-game recap. Enjoy the game if you're attending, and don't forget to yell like crazy before the second half begins. War Eagle!
How to Watch, Listen, Stream
When: 8:00pm CDT
Watch: SEC Network
Stream: WatchESPN / ESPN3
Listen: Auburn IMG Network