Auburn is starting to get things put together on this basketball team and it's coming at just the right time as they're set to take on one of the few ranked SEC squads tonight in Frank Martin's South Carolina Gamecocks squad.
The Tigers are fresh off an absolute manhandling of arch-rival Alabama in Auburn Arena last Saturday. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, suffered a 69-85 loss at Rupp Arena in Kentucky. It was a game that will sound familiar to Auburn fans: USC was in it until about midway through the second half when Kentucky pulled away.
Still, that result should give the Tigers a bit of confidence going into Columbia. They played with Kentucky at about the same level. Now, they'll just have to play at an even higher level on USC's home court.
USC is led by senior Sindarius Thornwell who is averaging almost 20 points and 7 rebounds per game. He has been the dominant force for Martin's team so far this season. PJ Dozier isn't far behind him with 14.6 ppg and just shy of 5 rebounds. The Gamecocks have two other players in Chris Silva and Duane Notice who are averaging just below 10 ppg. They're a team that relies on Thornwell but doesn't necessarily have to with the other weapons that they have.
South Carolina is 15-4 on the season and 5-1 in conference play. That includes some pretty big nonconference wins over ranked foes as well as a defeat of ranked Florida, as well. Their SEC schedule to put up that 5-1 record against is not an easy one as they've played three of the teams that Auburn has lost to and have only lost to Kentucky, themselves.
The Tigers, meanwhile, are picking up steam. Austin Wiley was a force for which Alabama had no answer in the Tiger's rout of Alabama. He had a career-high 18 points and 9 rebounds. Danjel Purifoy returned for Auburn, as well, which sparked a big boost. Alabama shut down Jared Harper in that game, but Ronnie Johnson took over running the point and dishing the ball all around to help lead to the win.
And, as always, there's Mustapha Heron picking up his 10+ points in every game of his career so far. Of late, teams have done an excellent job of shutting him down in the first half. Then, they're either forgetting about him or he just goes on a slow burn until he sees the perfect opportunity against a worn down defense to get things lit. When he gets hot, he clearly shows why he was one of the top rated recruits in the nation last season.
Statistically, Auburn is averaging almost 10 more points per game, just a tad bit more rebounds, has a better shooting percentage, and are blocking more shots. They're also allowing 15 more points per game than the Gamecocks' defense is, though. Vegas has the Gamecocks by 10 as of my writing this.
This is a pivotal game for Auburn. Lose and it's not too damaging (given the opponent). Win, though, and suddenly this team starts picking up a ton of confidence and could get on a big roll down the stretch.
How to Watch, Stream, Listen
Time: 5:30pm Central
TV: SEC Network
Listen: Auburn Sports Network