This time last year, the Mercer Bears were 5-4 and would end the month of December with three straight losses to SEC teams. This year's Mercer team, or at least its record, is much improved. The Bears are 8-1, its best start ever as a Division I team, with the lone loss to Davidson by six. Bruce Pearl wasn't kidding when he said, "When we play a mid-major conference like SOCON, we're going to play the best teams in those conferences."
On the other hand, Auburn will be the best team Mercer has faced other than that Davidson team. Yes, the Tigers lost by seven at Colorado and fell in overtime to MTSU, but those teams also sit at number 11 and number 65 in the RPI, respectively.
This game is important to both teams with only a few games before conference play begins. Auburn travels to Xavier (gulp) this Saturday and then spends a few days in paradise for the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, where it will face the likes of New Mexixo, BYU, Oklahoma, and UNI for three games. Making it to the Tennessee game above .500 would be a great confidence boost for this team and a win over Mercer would make that much easier.
Mercer follows Auburn with games at Arkansas, at Ohio State, and at Kennesaw State before the Southern Conference games start. I'm sure their fans are hoping for an upset or two in that stretch and they feel Auburn may be their best shot.
Keys to the Game
Threes - The Tigers have been a hot-shooting team from beyond the arc, none more than Kareem Canty. He has made 22 of his 52 three-point attempts while TJ Lang and Bryce Brown have combined for 23 more. That firepower could go a long way toward beating Mercer, since the Bears aren't a high-scoring team. Instead, they win with defense, allowing only 60 points a game.
Free Throws - The Tigers have not been a hot-shooting team from the line. Instead, the Bears will have an advantage if the fouls pile up and trends continue. Auburn is shooting just 66% on free throws while Mercer is up to 72%.
Pressure - One of the interesting things I saw in the last game was the amount of pressure Auburn put on MTSU inbounding the ball. The Blue Raiders got called for at least one five-second violation and probably deserved a few more. The Tigers also got a few steals off inbounding passes, especially late in the game. Hopefully Auburn can continue the aggressiveness and have it pay off in a a few extra possessions if not a few easy buckets.
Tahj - Bruce Pearl said that Tajh Shamsid-Deen practiced yesterday and could be available against Mercer. He re-injured his shoulder just two and half weeks ago, but if he's ready to go, he could provide a big boost on the defensive side of things.
How to Watch, Stream, and Listen
So far this season, we've been "treated" to a makeshift stream for the UAB game, a Big South Network Online stream, and whatever it was that happened on GoBlueRaiders.com, and while the reactions on Twitter are hilarious, it will be nice to reliably watch the game on an honest to goodness television set. Or at least a reliable streaming option. *crosses fingers*
Location: Auburn Arena, Auburn, AL
Time: 9:00pm EST / 8:00pm CST
TV: SEC Network
Streaming: SEC Network+
Audio: Auburn IMG Radio Network