Auburn travels to Oxford tonight to face the Ole Miss Rebels for the second time this season. The first match up was an 85-88 loss at Auburn Arena. That game is notable for Auburn in that it was late in the final minutes of the first half when Danjel Purifoy came down wrong on his ankle and hasn't been the same since.
Since then, Ole Miss has been a back-and-forth team. They've gone on a streak of winning two and then losing two. Hopefully, that trend continues. The Rebels last game was a 66-75 loss to Tennessee following two wins over Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. They are currently 14-10 overall, 5-6 in the SEC.
The Tigers at the time of the last game were winless in SEC play. Their play has been very inconsistent from game to game and even half to half. They're on a two-game winning streak now, though, with wins over Alabama and Mississippi State. The only thing Auburn has done consistently is build big leads and then watch the end become a heart-pounding thriller. Auburn's current record is 16-8 overall, 5-6 in the conference.
As the score of the first game indicates and the stats over the course of the season show as well, these are two very evenly matched teams. The big advantage Ole Miss has is the rebounding capability of Sebastian Saiz. The good news for Auburn facing the 6'9, 240 lbs Spaniard is that Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore have both improved their presence down low and should be able to affect him more than they did in the first game. The bad news is that we still don't know the status of Horace Spencer, but I doubt he sees any action in this game after missing the last two.
Perhaps one of the strangest statistics in Auburn's favor in this game is the Tigers' road record. Ole Miss is 7-9 on the year at home, which isn't great, but Auburn has been a definite road team. They're 7-3 away from Auburn Arena.
For the Tigers, getting rebounds and playing consistent defense are the key. When the Tigers are doing that well, then we see stretches like the first half against Mississippi State. It also helps when you have Bryce Brown and TJ Lang recover their shooting stroke. Brown, in particular, has been playing some excellent all-around basketball (outside a dumb foul or two in the final 2:30 of the MSU game, but, then, EVERYONE had a dumb foul or two in that stretch) over the last two games.
An important key for the Tigers on defense will be trying to prevent Cullen Neal from getting good looks from 3. He's .411 on the season from beyond the arc, and Auburn has a bad habit of leaving good three-point shooters open to take shots. One big trend in Auburn's losses has been letting the other team get hot from three.
A win in this game would be beyond huge for the Tigers' post-season chances. They need to take at least 2, maybe even 3 of their remaining 4 road games to be in good shape. That combined with winning at least one - preferably 2 or all 3 - of their remaining home games puts the Tigers in a good spot for at least the NIT.
How to Watch, Stream, Listen:
Time: 6 pm Eastern / 5 pm Central
TV: SEC Network
Listen: Auburn Sports Network