Saturday's loss to Florida was ugly for Auburn, but it wasn't detrimental in terms of conference standings. Sure, a surprise win over a top-tier Gators team in Gainesville would've been a nice cherry on top of big wins against Kentucky and Alabama at home, but the loss kept the Tigers hovering in the middle of the SEC rankings. All that Bruce Pearl and his team can do is move forward and try to steal one on the road from another talented program.
Auburn (9-9, 3-4 SEC) will face an Ole Miss Rebels team (12-7, 2-5 SEC) that started the calendar year with two solid wins over Alabama and Georgia, but has since ridden a four-game losing streak in conference play. It's worth noting that they lost a close one to 3rd-ranked (SEC) South Carolina on the 19th by only three points (77-74), and the two previous losses were to Florida at home and LSU in Baton Rouge. The Rebels' last loss is the inexplicable one, though—they gave the bottom team in the conference, Mississippi State, its only win in conference play so far this season.
While Ole Miss is ranked higher in overall competition, Auburn has the edge in SEC play with a 2-2 record in their last four SEC games, and the Tigers have a good chance to steal one from the Rebels tonight at the Pavilion after a humbling experience in Gainesville. Ole Miss has shown down the stretch that it is a much more vulnerable program than Florida, and since Auburn has hopefully put its worst play in the rearview mirror (the 32-point loss to the Gators being the worst point deficit this season for the Tigers), Bruce Pearl's squad can only look upward. Tonight is a chance to prove that.
The short-staffed starting squad at Pearl's disposal (try saying that five times fast) seemed to show a severe lack of focus against the Gators. After Cinmeon Bowers posted one of the best lines of his Auburn career against Alabama, he was absolutely flat against Florida with only 4 points and 9 rebounds. Tyler Harris and Kareem Canty led the Tigers in scoring with 14 points and 12 points, respectively. Bryce Brown continues to show frustration in his play, and TJ Lang still can't seem to find the sweet spot behind the arc that he began to find in the 2014-2015 season.
Perhaps a silver lining for Auburn was the fact that Jordon Granger came off the bench and went 3-4 at the three point line and ended the night with 11 points. It'll be interesting to see how Pearl brings him into the rotation tonight if TJ Lang continues to struggle with three point shooting. Canty continued to challenge the Gators' defense throughout the game, so expect him to be back in good shape from behind the arc tonight even if it takes a few possessions to get there.
Andy Kennedy's Ole Miss squad is led by senior guard Stefan Moody, who is averaging a whopping 24.3 points per game to put him at the top of the SEC in front of Tennessee's Kevin Punter (22.9) and LSU's Ben Simmons (19.8). The next spot belongs to Kareem Canty, who's averaging 18.9 points per game. Both players will be looking for the hot hand early in this game, but in a home-court situation in a brand new, state-of-the-art arena, don't be surprised if Ole Miss comes out firing on all cylinders. It'll be up to the Tigers to find a way to suppress an early scoring run to avoid the meltdown they experienced in Gainesville.
Ole Miss Junior forward Sebastian Saiz, who is second in scoring for the Rebels with 12.8 points per game, is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery last week to repair a detached retina. Andy Kennedy will have a hard time replacing Saiz's size and rebounding ability, so Auburn will have a good chance to exploit his absence in the paint. Hard drives to the basket that get the Tigers to the free throw line will be a key factor for success. Additionally, look for Auburn to improve on second-chance scoring when given the opportunity.
It's business as usual for Auburn, but a win tonight against a pretty good home-court team will get the Tigers over .500 (overall) and create some much needed separation in the very congested middle of SEC standings.
War Damn Eagle.
How to Watch:
Auburn vs. Ole Miss
When: 6:00 PM CT
Watch: SEC Network
Listen: Auburn IMG Network
Live Tweets: @CollegeandMag, @Clintau24, @jacobvarner14 @AuburnMBB
Radio Affiliates: 100.5 FM (Birmingham), 94.3 FM (Auburn), 1230 AM (Huntsville), 106.5 FM (Mobile), 92.3 FM (Montgomery)