Auburn hopes to avoid going under .500 early in the season when they hit the court Friday night against the Georgia Southern Eagles out of the Sun Belt Conference. Bruce Pearl is proving that he's not trying to schedule push-over teams in the non-conference schedule with this one.
The Eagles were runner-ups in the Sun Belt Conference tournament last year to champion and NCAA tournament darling Georgia State. That game came down to the wire. Head Coach Mark Byington is in his third year in Statesboro. The Eagles suffered through years of struggling teams before his arrival. He had them pushing for the tournament in only his second season.
Unfortunately for Georgia Southern, their top five scorers from that team are gone. In their first two games of the season, over half of the Eagles' shots have been from beyond the arc. They have lived and died with the three point shot. That was especially evident during Monday night's game against Ole Miss. The Eagles outscored the Rebels by one point in the second half and pulled within 3 points during the half, but still fell 82-72.
Part of the reason for that was free throws. Ole Miss went to the line and shot a staggering 53 free throws (40 made) on 38 personal fouls. You think the refs were whistle-happy in the Auburn/Colorado game? In this one they were off the chain. It almost made the game unwatchable as it lasted 2.5 hours.
The Tigers should get a tough test in the Eagles. Although they did lose their top five scorers, as mentioned, they did do an excellent job against the Rebels in the Tad Pad. Three Eagles scored in the double-digits, so it's not as if they didn't have anyone to take the place of those that left. The majority of the roster and all of the projected starters are underclassmen (only five juniors or seniors), so they're a young team, but they proved they're a tough team against the Rebels.
They also match up well in height. They don't have anyone over 6'8, but outside of Tyler Harris at 6'10, Auburn doesn't either. All of their starters are over 6 feet tall.
Auburn will need to be on top of their game and attempt to avoid all the ticky-tack fouls they had against Colorado (or at least hope the refs aren't as picky) if they want to win this one. It's definitely a game where #SECBasketballFever can pop up and the road team pull the upset. The Eagles will feel some confidence after their performance against Ole Miss. The Tigers could definitely use a raucous environment from the Jungle and the Arena fans to help pull this one out.
Projected Georgia Southern Starters:
F - 0 - Montae Glenn - Fr - 6'8, 230 lbs - 75% FG shooter
F - 10 - Jake Allsmiller - So - 6'5, 185 lbs - A three-point shooter. All of his points this season have come from beyond the arc.
G - 1 - Devonte Boykins - So - 6'2, 180 lbs - 13 points vs Ole Miss, 19 total for the season
G - 2 - Mike Hughes - So - 6'3, 190 lbs - 50% 3 point shooter
G - 3 - Ike Smith - Fr - 6'4, 195 lbs - Leading scorer for the Eagles with 25 points so far.
Projected Auburn Starters:
F - 5 - Cinmeon Bowers - Sr - 6'7, 250 lbs
F - 12 - Tyler Harris - GS - 6'10, 228 lbs
G - 1 - Kareem Canty - Jr - 6'1, 185 lbs
G - 4 - TJ Dunans - 6'5, 174 lbs
G - 23 - TJ Lang - 6'7, 200 lbs
Keys For Auburn:
Defend the perimeter. If the season to date is any indication, the Eagles will live and die by the three pointer.
Avoid sloppy plays. We can't afford to have certain players rushing down the court with the ball and taking sloppy shots or making dumb passes. Because they're a three-point shooting team, the Eagles can get back in a game quickly or they can jump out to a lead quickly. Protect the ball.
Improve Free Throw Shooting. 52%, as in the Colorado game, isn't going to cut it. Especially if the referees are going to call as many fouls as they have been the first few games.
How To Watch, Stream, Listen
From the game notes, it looks like this is going to be similar to the UAB game. I think the camera feed is going to be in-house and Rod and Sonny will be on the call. It will not be an ESPN crew. For the Georgia Southern folks who read this (and there will be a good many, because I'm going to post this to the main GS message board, GSUFans.com), I'm sorry, but you'll have to listen to the very excitable and homerific awesomeness of Rod Bramblett.
Location: Auburn Arena, Auburn, AL
Time: 9:30pm EST / 8:30pm CST
Streaming: SEC Network+
Audio: Auburn IMG Network