Auburn basketball has been an up-and-down experience this season, but lately, loyal fans have had to weather the down's more than the up's.
Bruce Pearl has prepared fans by keeping expectations realistic, which illustrates his dedication to the program—an attitude that fans were not given the luxury of under the previous coach (who shall remain nameless on this site). But don't worry—we're not bitter.
Pearl still believes that this Tigers squad is a "good team," despite what the record indicates. At 11-12 overall and 3-7 in SEC play, the Tigers are going to have a mountainous challenge in front of them to close out the season with a winning record in the SEC. The remaining schedule is a powerful gamut, with games against Georgia, #1 Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Missouri on the road. In front of the Tigers tonight are the Arkansas Razorbacks, who have risen in the SEC ranks to become "one of the hottest teams in the country" ($1 Jesse Palmer).
Arkansas, second only to Kentucky in the SEC, sits at 18-5 overall and 7-3 in conference play, but aren't unbeatable. While the Hogs humiliated a Mississippi State team on Saturday that beat Auburn at home earlier this season, it took an unbelievable overtime finish to beat Alabama at home, and they've split this season's series against Tennessee. Arkansas does, however, have something that Auburn hasn't been able to enjoy over the last several weeks: consecutive SEC wins. Wins against South Carolina and Mississippi State set them up for a 3-game SEC winning streak tonight, while Auburn will look for its most complete game of the season to pull the upset.
"Most complete" is a relative term, though. Auburn actually impressed in this degree on Saturday at home against Ole Miss, but questionable officiating, a hot Rebel bench, and a grown-ass bald man shouting at 20-year-olds at the free-throw line marred an otherwise consistent performance. Cinmeon Bowers achieved his 14th double-double of the season and went 6-8 at the line, which might be one of his most consistent performances all year (minus some horrible three-point attempts). Antoine Mason has come into superb form lately, and along with KT Harrell, he has become a scoring machine for the Tigers throughout SEC play. Once again, though, Auburn will need to find a way to finish in the end to put away a heavy-scoring and defensively stifling Arkansas team.
Sophmore forward and SEC scoring leader Bobby Portis will aim to boost the Razorbacks' 3-4 road record at Auburn Arena tonight, but with focused shooting and better ball-handling in transition, the Tigers will have a genuine shot against the SEC's 2nd-best team in front of another sell-out crowd described by many analysts as the greatest atmosphere in SEC basketball. Look for another solid performance by Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who despite two healing shoulders has played lights-out for the Tigers in the last few weeks. Cinmeon Bowers will aim for his 15th double-double while attempting to stay out of foul trouble—whether the officials respect his size and physical play will be determined at tip-off.
At least Andy Kennedy won't be screaming in tongues while he shoots free-throws.
How to Watch, Listen, Stream
When: 8:00 pm CDT
Stream: WatchESPN / ESPN3
Listen: Auburn IMG Network