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Auburn vs. Florida basketball preview: Tigers hope to stay hot in Gainesville

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With just a few games remaining in the season, will Auburn be able to close out strong?

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

After losing 16 consecutive conference games, Auburn is suddenly on a bit of a warm streak, winning four of its last six. Tony Barbee's team will try to keep it up Wednesday night at No. 2 Florida.

The last time the Tigers (12-11, 4-8 SEC) and Gators (23-2, 12-0) met, it was at Auburn Arena in January. Florida emerged victorious, 68-61, in a contest that was closer than most expected. It seemed even closer than the final result indicated: There were five ties and six lead changes. Auburn played tough, but in the end, it was the small things that added up. The Gators outrebounded the Tigers, 31-23. Both teams had seven offensive rebounds, but the Gators dominated on the defensive glass, 24-16. Billy Donovan's current squad is not a big three-point shooting kind of team, and it was only 3-of-9, compared Auburn's surprising 7-of-13 mark in the last matchup. However, the Gators were shooting 53.8 percent from the floor, and the Tigers managed to hit just 43.5 percent of their shots. Florida made 23-of-33 free throws. and again, Auburn fell short by making 14-of-22. The Tigers' lack of an inside game was apparent, as Florida outscored Auburn ,32-24, in the paint, and the Gators' bench dominated, 28-5. Needless to say, I am not exactly looking forward to the game in Gainesville.

Despite a win over Mississippi State on Saturday, Auburn dropped from No. 124 to 126 in the latest edition of the Kenpom.com rankings. The lowest Florida has been ranked this season was 18th, right before the Gators traveled to Tuscaloosa in late January. Kenpom currently has Florida at No. 2, just behind Arizona and just above Duke. Keep in mind that Kenpom ranks team based on a variety of stats that factor in adjusted tempo and adjusted efficiency. I remind you of this because in the AP Top 25 and the Coaches' Poll, Syracuse comes in at No. 1, followed by Florida and then Wichita State for the top three. Kenpom has little faith or hope for the Tigers, who are projected to lose, 78-60, with only a 4 percent chance at a road win.

Four percent, huh? Fine, Kenpom. I will see your 4 percent and raise you four bourbons. Here is what I anticipate for the game. I will start off with a Booker's neat. I find it to be warming, slightly decadent and an everyday luxury. I expect the Tigers to come out on one of two ends of the spectrum: either on fire or a dumpster fire. K.T. Harrell cannot come out cold, and no one can afford to get into foul trouble early. If the Tigers hold their own, I anticipate only one Booker's. That might even sustain me until halftime.

After the half, again, the Tigers are prone to be a little slow to start. I often wonder if they eat Chipotle in the locker room. I kid, I kid. At this point, I will ease into a Bulleit, maybe with a cube or two of ice. I have a fondness for Bulleit because of the clean flavor and the lovely orange label. It is, after all, the preferred bourbon I serve at tailgates.

Now there are three possibilities for the second half. One, Auburn keeps it close, and I switch to a sparkling water with lemon. Two, Auburn plays lights out and I am unable to drink anything because I have thrown my glass in jolly triumph. Or three, it becomes a living nightmare to behold. At that point, dear friends, I reach for the Wild Turkey 101 and not bother with the use of a drinking vessel. Straight from the bottle. Considering I am the only one in the household who drinks the Turkey that remains hidden in liquor cabinet for moments of complete despair, this is perfectly acceptable.

More than anything, there is that part of every Auburn heart that cannot deny the romantic notion that something crazy, something wonderful, something amazing could happen. In moments of victory, our go-to has always been Eagle Rare, but a win over Florida might call for something a little more special, like Angel's Envy. Or maybe even a 10-year-old Springbank single malt. Who knows what the night holds?

Numbers at a Glance (conference games)

Auburn Florida
Scoring Average 71.2 70.5
Scoring Defense 73.2 57.1
Scoring Margin -2.0 +13.4
Field Goal % .434 .461
Field Goal % Defense .433 .393
3-Point % .313 .322
3-Point % Defense .366 .335
Free Throw % .742 .682
Rebounding Average 32.2 35.8
Rebounding Margin -3.2 +4.0
Turnover Average 13.0 10.8
Turnover Margin -0.08 +2.5

Personnel

Auburn Tigers

I would hope you know all these guys by now. But if not, the first five on the floor for the Tigers should be:

  • K.T. Harrell. 6'4, 216 pounds, junior guard from Montgomery. Harrell is fifth in the SEC in scoring (19.2 ppg) and has put up double figures in the 21 of the first 22 games (held to only seven points by Kentucky).
  • Allen Payne. 6'6, 225, senior forward from Cincinnati. 5.7 rebounds per game for 20th in the SEC. 72 percent of his rebounds have been defensive rebounds (93 of 130). 108 career steals, T-7th in the conference, 1.5 spg for 6th in the league.
  • Asauhn Dixon-Tatum. 7'0, 226, senior center from Anderson, Ind. He averages 1.9 blocks per game, fourth in the conference and 75th nationally. ADT has had at least one block in 20 of 23 games this season.
  • Chris Denson. 6'2, 181, senior guard from Columbus, Ga. CD3 is the leading scorer in the league (20.9 ppg) and 16th in the country. He had a career-high 32 points against Alabama earlier this season and has 1,098 career points (26th in AU history).
  • Tahj Shamsid-Deen. 5'10, 163, freshman point guard from Decatur, Ga. TSD has started all 23games, and his 2.87 assists per game is fourth in the league among freshman point guards; 40 assists, 16 turnovers in the last 14 games combined. He has scored 10-plus points in the eight of the last eleven games.

Off the bench for Auburn:

  • Malcolm Canada. 6'3, 224, junior point guard from Austin, Texas. 40 percent of his points scored have been at the free throw line (29-of-37, .784 pct). 81 percent of his rebounds are on the defensive glass (35-of-43). 6-of-6 from the free throw line against Mississippi State, all in the final minute.
  • Alex Thompson. 6'8, 204, freshman forward from Dothan. Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 2A Player of the Year for 2012-13, Thompson had a breakout game against Missouri, scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting.
  • Dion Wade. 6'5, 170, freshman guard from Antwerp, Belgium. 73 percent of his points are from beyond the arc (16-of-50 made three-pointers).
  • Matthew Atewe. 6'9, 250, freshman from Brampton, Ontario. Atewe has had at least one block in 13 of 17 games. Career-high 13 rebounds (nine on the offensive glass) against Kentucky.

Florida Gators

Florida is looking for its 30th consecutive home win, currently the third-longest home streak in the country. In addition, the Gators' 17-game winning streak is currently tied for the longest streak in program history.

Donovan will look mostly to his seniors to start the game: forward Will Yeguete (6'8, 230), forward Casey Prather (6'6, 212), center Patric Young (6'9, 240), and guard Scottie Wilbekin (6'2, 176). Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II (6'4, 199) rounds out the five.

From the bench, expect to see freshman guard Kasey Hill (6'1, 181), sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (6'8, 212), sophomore guard/forward Devon Walker (6'6, 195) and possibly freshman forward Chris Walker (6'10, 220).