Entering Wednesday night's game at South Carolina, Auburn is fresh off two wins at home. The first, over Alabama, 74-55, ended the Tigers' 16-game SEC losing streak. The second, over Georgia, 74-67, extended their new winning streak.
Two games is considered a streak, right? It has been a while, so I have forgotten what that feels like. Georgia led only once, 3-2 at the 19:13 mark of the first half, but I still fretted for most of the game. Every time it seemed Auburn (10-9, 2-6 SEC) was on the brink of pulling away, the Dawgs would make a shot to bring them within striking distance again. Not a complete nail biter, but not exactly an easy game, either.
I have some uneasiness about this game in Columbia. First, I know very little about the Gamecocks, other than they have struggled almost as much as our Tigers. South Carolina is 8-13 overall, and 1-7 in the league play, the sole win being an absolute beatdown of Texas A&M, 80-52. Of the seven losses, five of those have been by eight points or fewer. The only victory was at home but they played close games in College Station, the other Columbia and Oxford. The second reason for my apprehension is that Auburn is not a good team on the road. Head coach Tony Barbee has not won on the road since Jan. 12, 2013. Then again, it was against South Carolina, so maybe there is some sort of Tiger magic in Columbia. Third, I hate the new rules this year and can only imagine that the conference's best flopper, Carolina forward Michael Carrera, has managed to make them somehow work for him. He is only a 65.2 percent free throw shooter, so maybe it doesn't matter. I digress.
Frank Martin is only in his second year at South Carolina, but has already had some Barbee-like struggles: 22-31 overall, 5-21 in SEC play. Barbee is in his fourth year at Auburn and also has yet to break .500 overall (45-68, .398) or in league play (12-39 .235). Auburn leads the series, 20-14. Kenpom.com currently ranks the Tigers at 136 in the nation, and the Gamecocks slightly better at 124. The Tigers are not expected to win, but only expected to fall by five points, 79-74. Kenpom gives Auburn a 32 percent chance of a win. Eh, I still think Auburn has a really good shot at a road win.
Team Numbers at a Glance
|Field Goal %||.452||.435|
|Field Goal % Defense||.429||.435|
|3-Point % Defense||.377||.316|
|Free Throw %||.699||.698|
Hopefully, you have committed this to memory by now, but if not, here are your probable starters: guards Tahj Shamsid-Deen (5'10, 163 pounds), Chris Denson (6'2, 181) and K.T. Harrell (6'4, 216), forward Allen Payne (6'6, 225), and center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0, 226). As for the first guys off the bench, it will be point guard Malcolm Canada (6'3, 224), center Matthew Atewe (6'9, 250), and forwards Jordon Granger (6'8, 200), Dion Wade (6'5, 170) and Alex Thompson (6'8, 204).
I often forget just how young this team is until I look at the roster. Martin is expected to start three freshman: guards Sindarius Thornwell (6'5, 206), Duane Notice (6'2, 221) and forward Demetrius Henry (6'9, 215). Sophomore flopper Michael Carrera (6'5, 214) and senior guard Brenton Williams (5'11, 172) round out the lineup. Key contributor guard Tyrone Johnson suffered a fracture in his right foot and required surgery. He is currently out indefinitely. Instead, Martin will look to forward Laimonas Chatkevicius (6'11, 250), guard Jaylen Shaw (6', 182) and forward Mindaugas Kacinas (6'7, 210) off the bench. Thornwell and Williams lead the team in scoring, 13.5 and 13.3 points per game, respectively. Carerra and Kacinas are the leading rebounders, averaging 5.1 and 4.5 per game, respectively.