Auburn and Tennessee have the stage to themselves tonight to open the SEC Basketball Tournament. They are essentially involved in a "play-in" game for the rest of the bracket. In normal years, they would be joined by the 11th and 14th seeds in another play-in game. However, with Missouri's post-season ban, the 11th seed Mississippi State Bulldogs get the automatic pass into the second round to take on #6 Georgia.
Auburn is the 13th seed in this tournament, because, well, the Tigers haven't been that good this season. There have been flashes of brilliance - the Kentucky and Arkansas games - but as a whole, it just hasn't been there. That's due in large part to the missing players. They've been missing due to eligibility (Purifoy), injury (Shamsid-Deen, Dunans), taking a semester off and then redshirting (Reed), and quitting (Canty). With all of the pieces in place and running strong, this could have been a great team.
The opponent is 12th Tennessee. Auburn took on the Vols in the opening SEC game of the season back in January. In front of the home crowd, where Auburn was usually much stronger in 2015/16, the short-handed Tigers took down the Vols 83-77. Auburn's return trip to Knoxville was rock bottom for the Tigers, offensively. The Tigers only scored 45 points in the loss. That game also was when Auburn was at the lowest amount of depth, as well, since it is before T.J. Dunans returned to the lineup and after Canty departed.
Tennessee's best scoring threat, Kevin Punter, is done for the season after foot surgery. Their next best scoring threats, Armani Moore and Robert Hubbs III are averaging 12 and 10.4 points, respectively. Auburn, meanwhile, is led by Tyler Harris since Canty's exit, and he is only averaging 13.9 points per game. The Tigers do have three other players averaging just above 10 points per game in Dunans, Bowers, and Brown, too. Horace Spencer is only averaging 5.1 points per game, but he has been scoring a lot more in the last few games as he's really nailed down that hook shot of his.
On the surface, that would seem to favor the Tigers. However, you have to remember that Punter had a bad game against Auburn in January and Auburn won. He didn't play much against the Tigers in February and the Vols won that one going away.
This is a game that could literally (1) have any outcome you could imagine. Auburn could win big, Auburn could win close. Tennessee could win big, Tennessee could win close. Energy, focus, ball control, body control (no dumb fouls, please), and who gets the hot hand will decide this one. For Auburn, we can just hope that Bryce Brown channels an inner KT Harrell on his three point shots, Bowers and Harris drive the lane, and Spencer is on his blocking game. With those all working, Auburn should win this game. Struggle with turnovers and fouls, though, and this could swing heavily to the Vols.
How to Watch, Stream, Listen
Time: 8pm Eastern / 7pm Central
TV: SEC Network