Wednesday January 6, 2021
Auburn Tigers at Ole Miss Rebels
The Pavilion: Oxford, Mississippi
Network: SEC Network, Auburn Radio Network
The Tigers were in both games last week coming down the stretch, but were unable to get over the hump as Auburn went 0-2 to start SEC play with losses to Arkansas and Texas A&M. Tonight, they look to get on the board at the scene of one of last season’s most memorable games. Auburn takes on Ole Miss in Oxford tonight as both teams seek their first SEC win of the year. Last year in Oxford, the Tigers overcame a 19-point 2nd half deficit, got 19 points from Anfernee McLemore and Isaac Okoro converted a 3-point play in Double Overtime as Auburn escaped with a 1-point win.
Throughout the preview, we will get thoughts about tonight’s game from an Ole Miss perspective as One Man To Beat from the Ole Miss SB Nation Site, Red Cup Rebellion, was kind enough to answer a few questions about Ole Miss Basketball as well.
Get to Know Ole Miss
Kermit Davis enters his 3rd year as coach at Ole Miss. Davis defeated Auburn while at Middle Tennessee in 2015 and swept the Tigers in his first season in Oxford, the year Auburn made it to the Final Four. Auburn of course, returned the favor last season.
RCR: “Coach Davis had a solid first year, followed by a pandemic shortened second year, and he revamped the roster going into year three. So far, things look a little rough though many fans thought this would be a rebound year maybe getting onto the NCAAT bubble. The team could possibly gel down the stretch, but if they don’t, next year the seat could get hot for Davis.”
Ole Miss has a lot of new pieces on this year’s team, but the grad transfer market was beneficial to them as they are one of the country’s most experienced teams this season. Entering SEC play last week, Ole Miss was leading the country in scoring defense but a pair of 80+ point performances from Alabama and Wichita State knocked them off the top spot but are in the Top 20 in the country allowing only 60.1 PPG. One other statistic that is scary for Auburn fans: on average, they force their opponents into 19.3 turnovers per game. As a team, Auburn is averaging 17 turnovers a game. While the scoring defense numbers are very impressive, it appears the level of competition they faced during non-conference play has a lot to do with it.
RCR: “Totally competition related - Ole Miss’ non-conference schedule was filled with teams who were not good aside from maybe Dayton or Wichita State. Starting on the road against Bama was a bad way to jump from the likes of UT-Martin to SEC play. I think it served as a wake-up call as the team played much more competitively against Wichita State, but still it was ultimately a loss and more than 80 points given up.”
With Breein Tyree no longer in Oxford, senior guard Devontae Shuler (#2) leads the way in the scoring department this season, averaging 14.6 PPG while shooting 39.1% from 3-point range.
RCR: “Shuler is a different player from Tyree, a more all-around player, and he is clearly a much better defensive player. That being said, he does not have the outside scoring ability Tyree had, and he’s more of a ball distributor. I don’t think the offense can run through him the way it did through Tyree.”
Of the many newcomers, the player who has made the biggest impact is Grad Transfer forward Romello White (#0). The Atlanta native transferred much closer to home after beginning his career at Arizona State. He averaged 10.2 PPG and 8.8 RPG last season and is one of the Sun Devils best FG% shooters in program history. This season, he’s averaging 12.5 PPG and 7.3 RPG and shooting 69.1% from the field overall.
RCR: “Romello White came in and immediately has made a difference. He is capable of posting a double-double, which is something Ole Miss has not had in a couple years. The missing piece however has been Khadim Sy in the post who has had some supposed COVID issues keeping him out from significant playing time. If Sy can get up to speed, White may shine even brighter.”
Junior forward KJ Buffen (#5) has fared quite well against Auburn throughout his career. Buffen scored 16 against the Tigers in his freshmen season when they upset the Tigers when they were a Top 10 team to start SEC play in 2019. Buffen averaged 13 PPG against Auburn last year and as for this year, he’s averaging 11.4 PPG and 5 RPG.
Next up is junior guard Jarkel Joiner (#24) who is averaging 8.8 PPG this season. RCR believes he’s one of the guys who may fall under people’s radar that Auburn fans need to be aware of going into tonight’s game.
RCR: “For me, I’m a Jarkel Joiner fan. He is originally from Oxford, where he nearly led the nation in scoring his senior year of high school. He went to Cal St. Bakersfield, where former Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes was the head coach, and he led the team in scoring his first two years there. I think he is an explosive kid, just waiting for things to slow down a bit for him to really make an impact.”
Keys for Auburn
- Take Care of the Basketball! I can honestly just leave this sentence here at this point but it’s been a struggle for Auburn to hang onto the ball this season. Auburn has 12 or more turnovers in 9 of their games this season and the only game they had less than 9 was against Texas Southern... when they had 9. The team’s assist to turnover ratio coming into tonight is -1.1 as the team has more turnovers than assists.
- Get off to a Fast Start. One thing that Texas A&M did well was force Auburn to use the entire shot clock, never get comfortable running their offense, and not allow the ball to get into the paint. Auburn did much better in the 2nd half but the first 20 minutes were quite a struggle as Auburn scored just 22 1st half points Saturday. They need to do more in the first 20 minutes to try to avoid falling into a double digit hole that they have shown they can battle back from.
- Continue to get Jamal Johnson open looks. Coming into the season, I wasn’t sure what we would get out of the Memphis transfer but he’s been really good coming off the bench this season. He’s averaging 20.5 in SEC play so far and with the uncertainly around Justin Powell’s head injury, Auburn may need something close to that average tonight which leads me to....
- How will Point Guard by Committee pan out? Justin Powell banged his head late in the first half and played very little in the second half on Saturday. Coach Pearl said he was day-to-day so we will see if he plays tonight. With Turbo Jones off to South Alabama and no decision on Sharife Cooper, that leaves Allen Flanigan to be the primary PG if Powell can’t go. The question is, who else? I guess we could see Johnson, or maybe even have JT Thor or Jaylin Williams play some point guard but it’s definitely something to monitor.
First up is Red Cup Rebellion’s Prediction:
RCR: “Well, both teams in my opinion can’t be happy with where they are so far this season. I think Auburn is going to play some motivated basketball after a close game at Texas A&M over the weekend. The Tigers may have a decent advantage with their guards compared to Ole Miss from a talent perspective. I think for the Rebels to pull off a win, Romello White has to have his best game of the season. I have like maybe a 10 to 15 percent confidence Ole Miss can win this game right now, so I’ll say Auburn by 7.”
As for me, last week I picked Auburn to win both games that I thought were toss-ups going into them. Tonight feels like another one of those games to me. It’s one thing to grow from losses, but at some point, you have to turn some of these learning experiences into wins. So tonight, I’m going the other way, because I’m concerned about the turnovers along with how they will fare against White and Buffen in the paint. Auburn will battle and be there late but ultimately, I think Ole Miss pulls this one out late.
Ole Miss 71 Auburn 65