Date: Wednesday January 8th
Opponent: Vanderbilt Commodores
Location: Auburn Arena
Time: 8:00 PM
Network: SEC Network, Auburn Radio Network
In case you missed it on Monday....
For the first time since January 18, 2000, Auburn Basketball is in the Top 5 of the AP Poll as they move from 8 to 5 this week!— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) January 6, 2020
That’s right! Auburn is in the Top 5 of the AP Poll since being ranked 4th the week of January 18th, 2000. Almost 20 years later, Auburn makes its triumphant return to that spot. Auburn plays its SEC home opener tonight against an improved Vanderbilt Commodores team.
Get to Know Vanderbilt
Welcome to Coaching Life in the SEC Jerry Stackhouse! Your first game in the SEC and you’re taking your team into the Jungle, which will definitely be ready with the students back on campus. In all seriousness though, Stackhouse has done a good job in Year 1 with a program that went 0-18 last season in SEC play. As a team, the Dores have scored at least 70 points in all but 2 games this year, averaging 79.2 PPG. Last season, Vanderbilt averaged just 68.1 PPG.
Sophomore Forward Aaron Nesmith (#24) - 23.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG
A big reason why this Vanderbilt team has improved from a year ago is the emergence of Aaron Nesmith. In Nesmith’s 1st season on the West End, he averaged 11 PPG. He’s more than doubled his scoring average so far this season and while he’s the SEC’s leading scorer at 23.4 PPG, 5th best in the country, he’s also shooting 51.4% from 3-point range. And it’s not like he’s 25-50 from 3, no he is 56-109 on the season. He’s made at least 4 3-pointers in 8 of Vandy’s 13 games this season. Saturday night against SMU, he scored 29 points and made 8 3-pointers, a season-high.
At this pace, he’s on track to make 134 pointers this season, which would tie the all-time single season mark at Vanderbilt. Put this in perspective: Bryce Brown made 141 3-pointers last year.
Junior Guard Saben Lee (#0) - 15.8 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.7 RPG
Lee is Vandy’s 2nd leading scorer despite primarily coming off the bench. He also averages the 2nd most minutes at 30 per game. While he leads the team in assists, he also leads the team in turnovers as well. He was Vanderbilt’s leading scorer last season.
Freshman Scotty Pippen Jr. (#2) - 11.3 PPG
Scotty is the son of NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen and runs the point for Jerry Stackhouse’s group. In his last 3 games, he is averaging 14 PPG and 5.2 APG.
Junior Guard Maxwell Evans (#3) - 7.1 PPG
Freshman Forward Dylan Disu (#1) - 5.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG
What to Expect From Auburn
While most people are looking ahead to Isaac Okoro vs. Anthony Edwards on Saturday, I’m excited for Isaac Okoro vs. Aaron Nesmith. We’ve talked about Nesmith above and I would anticipate you will see Okoro trying to keep Nesmith contained as much as possible. Nesmith gets a lot of open looks and Auburn will have to contain those as they try to slow him down. I think Nesmith will still score 15-20, he’s that good but the key for Auburn on defense is to hold their own against Nesmith, which they’ve done several times this year against opposing teams leading scorers. Speaking of Okoro, he had a really good game in his SEC debut, scoring 16 points along with 8 rebounds. He made free throws late as well which was an encouraging sign (as did J’Von McCormick). Okoro will have an opportunity this week to prove himself against some of the best players the SEC has to offer.
Auburn has the size advantage inside and this is a game in which Austin Wiley should really flourish. Wiley had one of his toughest tests of the season on Saturday going up against Reggie Perry and Abdul Ado and he put up 10 points and 5 rebounds. I think he gets back to putting up double-double numbers tonight. It’s also worth mentioning that Clevon Brown is out for Vandy and that’s significant because he’s one of Vanderbilt’s best big guys.
What else can we say about J’Von MCormick? Last year, he was averaging 10 minutes a year for most of the year and struggled, until March. Now, (and Jay Bilas said this during the Kentucky-Georgia game), he might be Auburn’s most important player. He has reset his career high in points twice over the last few weeks, going off for 28 points on Saturday. Give Bruce some credit for trusting in McCormick when there were a lot of questions going into the season about who was going to replace Jared Harper and his production. McCormick has done an outstanding job as PG1 this season.
I’ve attended 3 Vanderbilt games this season, including Saturday night’s game against SMU. This team has made some progress throughout the year and they play with much more effort and intensity than they did last year. They will win some games in the SEC but in each Vandy game I’ve attended, they’ve gone into long scoring droughts. Saturday night, they led 72-57 with 6:19 left and didn’t score again for 5 minutes. Even then, they were still up 7 but weren’t able to hold the lead in regulation and lost in overtime. With the combination of Vandy’s tendency to struggle to score at times plus the pressure of Auburn’s defense, I think this will be a fun night in the Jungle for Auburn.