We're back to it, folks. Basketball season is more than underway, and this writer couldn't be more excited. For those of us who have been burdened with football-related woes all season, we find that basketball season offers a much-needed change of pace. A fast-paced, baseline-to-baseline pace, that is.
Also for this writer, it signals the beginning of a quiet ride off into the sunset. After much consideration, I will be stepping away from College and Magnolia after this basketball season, so hopefully Bruce Pearl and our boys will be lifting the SEC Tournament Trophy in March and prepping for a "no tomorrow" run in 2016's March Madness. Even though I humbly come before you with almost zero basketball knowledge, it was my pleasure to return to writing previews and recaps for Auburn hoops after such an emotional ride last season that ended with three consecutive wins in three days to cap a magical SEC Tourney run in Bruce Pearl's inaugural year.
But enough sappy reminiscing—it's not about me. It's a new day, as our football coach would say, and I'm on board for a fresh set of match-ups—no seatbelt required (oh, there will be plenty more jabs at that cute little catchphrase that all three or four of the Gumps who love basketball seem to cherish so dearly nowadays).
It's been over a week since the Auburn Tigers (4-1) came out of Spartanburg with a win over Cliff Ellis' Chanticleers, and now they head to Music City to face this Blue Raiders team (5-2) inside Bridgestone Arena—the very site of that historic run for the Tigers last year in March. The challenge for Auburn will be defense—has Bruce Pearl been able to take the last ten days of preparation and turn it into a solid defensive strategy against the Blue Raiders?
The Coastal Carolina game was not a quick-and-easy trip. Auburn held on to a first-half lead and eventually put away a feisty team in the Chanticleers—thanks in part to three-point shooting. TJ (Three-Jay) Lang has become a threat behind the arc, and even Cinmeon Bowers—despite wincing faces from this writer and others—managed to find the net as he was 2-3 from behind the arc himself. Also on offense, Tyler Harris has continued to pace the Tigers, and he notched his fourth game with double-digit points against Coastal Carolina (21).
Off the court, we are still waiting for Danjel Purifoy's NCAA situation to be cleared. According to Pearl, Purifoy is expected to be available around January. Tahj Shamsid-Deen is still nursing his right shoulder, but New Williams will be ready to go today. Shamsid-Deen could provide some much-needed defense if he's on the court, but it's likely that he'll remain on the bench while his shoulder continues to heal.
Middle Tennessee State is coming a 68-55 win over South Alabama. Auburn will be its only SEC opponent of the season. The Blue Raiders are paced by senior forward Darnell Harris—who is averaging 12.1 points per game—and sophomore guard Giddy Potts. Potts provides steady rebounding and has one of the best free-throw percentages on the team. No doubt in what will feel like a home game to Middle Tennessee State (based in Murfreesboro), expect a good amount of three-point shooting from the Blue Raiders.
You can also expect Auburn to shoot from behind the arc—it's what they've done so far all season. Kareem Canty and Tyler Harris, both leading the Tigers in points per game (17.2 and 17, respectively), will likely benefit from New Williams providing a boost to Auburn's offense, but the bottom line for Auburn? A complete game. If MTSU head coach Kermit Davis paid any attention to Auburn's game against Coastal Carolina, he knows that a few back-to-back three's early in the game could be a big blow to an already-suspect Tiger defense. The key for Auburn will be intensity from the tip-off, protecting the ball in transition, and not committing costly fouls. Auburn is likely one of MTSU's toughest opponents so far this season, but it'll be up to the visiting team to prove that today at noon.
War Damn Eagle.
How to Watch:
Auburn vs. Middle Tennessee State
When: 12:00 PM CT
Listen: Auburn IMG Network
Radio Affiliates: 100.5 FM (Birmingham), 94.3 FM (Auburn), 1230 AM (Huntsville), 106.5 FM (Mobile), 92.3 FM (Montgomery)