Unless you have been living under a rock or have your head buried in the sand, I am confident you have heard the rumblings related to Tony Barbee's future at Auburn. We have a few thoughts on it all, but for now, let's take a look at what is currently in front of our Tigers: a familiar foe in the South Carolina Gamecocks. Auburn is 2-0 against South Carolina this year, winning on the road in Columbia in early February (79-74) and again at home in early March (83-67). Will Auburn be able to win one more time and, for the first time in Barbee's tenure, get past that first game in the SEC Tournament?
Auburn finished the regular season with a 14-15 overall record, going 6-12 in league play. I am reminded of how I have often said I would be elated to have a .500 season. Now that the possibility is basically upon us, it doesn't feel as good as I thought it would. It was almost maddening to watch that first gauntlet of six conference losses handed down by Ole Miss (65-62), Missouri (70-68), Tennessee (78-67), Florida (68-61), Mississippi State (82-74) and Arkansas (86-67). A little relief came in the form of wins against Alabama (74-55), Georgia (74-67) and South Carolina (79-74). I had hoped for a win against LSU (nope, 87-80) and thought surely there was a chance to take one when Kentucky hit the Plains (nope, 64-56).
You get the point: The losses were horrifying, but maybe the one that is seared in my memory is the road date at Florida. The Tigers fell, 71-66. Not to rehash this but for the love, this game was almost like destiny because the No. 1 team, Syracuse, had already fallen to Boston College (a team the Tigers beat early in the season) and little ol' Auburn stormed into Gainesville took the Gator defense to the edge, only to fall after collapse in the last 20 seconds. I might not get over that one for a while. Three days later, Auburn lost to Vanderbilt at home (67-59). Lost. At. Home. A game in which Auburn led by as much as 16 and then managed to lose by eight. The second win against South Carolina (83-67) wasn't as palatable for me because it was, at times, just hard to watch. At least Michael Carrera put in his Academy Award winning performances and Teddy Valentine ejected a former Auburn basketball walk-on from the crowd. Geez. This is what it has come down to? I know it was good to get a win on the road against Texas A&M to close out the regular season (69-64), but the losses to Alabama and Tennessee (73-57, 82-54) were great kicks in the stomach.
Yes, I expect a win against South Carolina but I just want to see a complete game. We have gotten glimpses all season, from the double-headed offensive attack of K.T. Harrell and Chris Denson, the occasional hot hand from Tahj Shamsid-Deen, the defensive prowess of Asauhn Dixon-Tatum. Kenpom.com expects an Auburn win by one, 76-75, and gives the Tigers a 53 percent chance at victory. Auburn most definitely has what it takes to win in Atlanta, but I need to see it to believe it.
Your expected Auburn Tigers starters are as follows:
- K.T. Harrell. 6'4, 216 pounds, junior guard from Montgomery. Harrell is sixth in the SEC in scoring (18.4 ppg) and second in the SEC for free throw percentage (.868).
- Allen Payne. 6'6, 225, senior forward from Cincinnati. 69 percent of his rebounds have been defensive boards (109 of 158). 36 steals this season, 1.2 steals per game, tied for eleventh in the league.
- Asauhn Dixon-Tatum. 7'0, 226, senior center from Anderson, Ind. He averages 2.0 blocks per game, fourth in the conference. According to Kenpom, his block percentage is 32nd in the country and his offensive rebound percentage is 28th in the country.
- Chris Denson. 6'2, 181, senior guard from Columbus, Ga. CD3 is the second-leading scorer in the league (19.2 ppg). He had a career-high 32 points against Alabama earlier this season and was named to the All-SEC second team.
- Tahj Shamsid-Deen. 5'10, 163, freshman point guard from Decatur, Ga. TSD has started all 29 games, and his 2.9 assists per game is 13th in the league. He had a career-best five threes at Florida.
The benchy bench bench:
- Malcolm Canada. 6'3, 224, junior point guard from Austin, Texas. 78 percent of his rebounds are on the defensive glass (40-of-51).
- Alex Thompson. 6'8, 204, freshman forward from Dothan. Thompson has a .333 three-point percentage and 50 percent of his shots are from behind the perimeter (12-of-24).
- Dion Wade. 6'5, 170, freshman guard from Antwerp, Belgium. 75 percent of his points are from beyond the arc (22-of-75 made three-pointers).
- Matthew Atewe. 6'9, 250, freshman from Brampton, Ontario. Career-high 13 rebounds (nine on the offensive glass) against Kentucky and 24 total over the last four games (6.0 per game).
South Carolina's probable starters are sophomore forwards Michael Carrera (6'5, 214) and Mindaugas Kacinas (6'7, 210), freshman guards Sindarius Thornwell (6'5, 206) and Duane Notice (6'2, 221), and senior guard Brenton Williams (5'11, 172). Most likely off the bench for the Gamecocks are forward/center Demetrius Henry (6'9, 215), forward Laimonas Chatkevicius (6'11, 250) and forward Brian Steele (6'5, 200).