First SEC home game of the year, can Mizzou get that needed first Power 5 victory of the season?
Get to know the Auburn Tigers
Auburn came into SEC play sitting at 6-5 and having had a very similar nonconference season to our Missouri Tigers. Auburn took care of most of the teams on their schedule that they should have beaten, the directional colleges (Georgia Southern, Northwestern State and Coastal Carolina), and the instate "rival" UAB. Toss in a win over Mercer and a surprising neutral site win over New Mexico and you’ve got Auburn’s non conference season. Looking at the returns Auburn did have its hiccups though with a loss to Middle Tennessee State and then back to back losses to Harvard and Hawaii over the holidays. Mizzou and Auburn did face a common nonconference opponent with both Tigers heading to Cincinnati to take on Xavier where both Tigers lost, though Auburn did it by 24 as opposed to Mizzou’s 12.
Two weeks into the conference season, Auburn sits at 1-1 with a home win over Tennessee and a home loss to still unbeaten South Carolina. Looking at their schedule, the road has not been a good place to the Tigers who are still looking for that first road win, which could bode well for Mizzou. Like he did in his first season, Bruce Pearl has entered year two with a relatively experienced team with the majority of the minutes going to seniors Cinmeon Bowers, Tyler Harris and Jordan Granger, incoming junior transfer from Marshall, Kareem Canty and Freshman Bryce Brown. Canty has been the real find of this season’s newcomers as he leads the Tigers in minutes, points and assists. Canty in his short stint on the plains so far has been the motor that makes Auburn go and has been the revelation of the season, looking to be in the SEC newcomer of the year conversation. Oddly, Bowers has had a very up and down season, coming in below last year’s average in every statistical category. Mizzou fans will remember the impact he had in Mizzou’s first meeting with Auburn on the plains last year as he took over late in the middle of the second half and broke Keanau Post.
As a team, Auburn is what their record indicates, a middle of the pack team that doesn’t stand out very much in really anything. Where they are strongest however is they shoot the ball very well, both overall and particularly well from distance, and after the Georgia game on Monday, this should cause Mizzou fans pause. Like Georgia, Auburn also relies heavily on four players with Canty, Harris, Bowers and Granger getting the majority of the minutes, though Granger doesn’t do much with his minutes, so really Auburn is a three headed team. Unlike Georgia, Auburn has been hit hard by the injury bug, losing top JUCO two guard TJ Dunans to a knee injury for the next 4 or so weeks. Auburn also has not had the services of Danjel Purifoy who continues to have eligibility issues with the NCAA still reviewing his ACT scores, though he is on campus, on scholarship and practicing with the team.
If this game looks and feels like Georgia Lite, don’t be surprised.
And now time for a chat with…
Q&A With College and Magnolia
Tuco of College and Mag, a frequent contributor to the SEC Power Rankings from the Auburn point of view has been kind enough to share some of his time with us to really get to know Auburn just a little bit better…
RockMNation: Auburn has struggled on the road so far this season, what do you think the major factor is?
Tuco: I'm less concerned about Auburn on the road than I am Auburn's injuries. We lost top Juco recruit TJ Dunans to a knee injury and with him lost our best slashing guard as well as a decent rebounder and inside defensive presence. He'll be out 3-5 weeks. Tahj Shamsid-Deen dislocated his shoulder again by literally reaching for a ball so his career may be done. New Williams, a.k.a this guy, hasn't been healthy this year. We're thin. We could play this game in Auburn, Columbia, Birmingham, St. Louis, or Moberly and I'd still be worried.
RMN: How important has Kareem Canty been to the team so far, and how do you see his role evolving this season?
Tuco: You can't overstate Canty's impact at Auburn this year. He's a competitor who is in range once he crosses midcourt. He has a really green light but normally can create space for his shot. As the season has progressed and the injuries have piled up, he has increasingly taken the team on his back. I would like to see him become a better facilitator and get others involved but that may be a function of our injuries.
RMN: Aside from Canty and Bowers (who Mizzou fans are well aware of) who do you think has to have an impact on this game for Auburn to exit Mizzou Arena with a road W?
Tuco: Bryce Brown is a true freshman guard who is coming on strong. He's a great three point shooter with a knack for getting open. We also need to have another one of our freshmen, Horace Spencer, play smart inside. He has a great motor and is a tremendous defender but he plays too aggressively, gets in foul trouble, and that limits his playing time.
RMN: How has year 2 in the Bruce Pearl regime been, now that the newness factor has worn off?
Tuco: Are you kidding? The few true, long-time Auburn basketball fans are starved for basketball greatness and we see a solid upward trend. Our talent level is already above where it was at any point of the Barbee era and we're bringing in another top 10-15 recruiting class in next year (including our first five star recruit ever) and we have another five star high school junior already signed for the year after that. Around the middle of last year we knew how bad things were in the program and knew this would likely be another rebuilding year. If things break right, this could still be an NIT team. We're playing for 2017, 2018 and beyond.
RMN: When the buzzer sounds, how has this game gone and what is your predicted final score?
Tuco: Auburn 81 Missouri 74.
Thanks to Tuco for taking the time to respond to our queries, and be sure to check out what they do over at College and Magnolia.
All that said, let’s take a look at the three keys to a Mizzou victory:
1) Get off to a Good Start
In Mizzou’s losses to Power 5 Conference opponents, Mizzou has started extremely slowly (aside from the home game with NC State when the Wolfpack sleptwalk their way through the opening 8 minutes) and looked almost tentative. This being a home game, some of this should be mitigated and hopefully with a strong crowd Mizzou can come out of the gate faster than we’ve seen. Get the ball to Puryear and Wes early and often and hope that some combination of Wright or Walton can get going as well.
2) Guard the Three Point Line
Mizzou lost their game against Georgia Wednesday night after getting shot out of the gym from beyond the arc. As noted everywhere, Mizzou is not the biggest team and Kim Anderson has decided to mold his defense around not allowing teams to get easy shots under the basket, which of late has worked, however, that does leave a lot of room on the outside for teams to shoot from deep. Auburn is a great three point shooting team, and if they’re given the room Georgia received on Wednesday, this could get ugly. The wings will have to step out a bit more than they have to ensure we don’t have a repeat of the other night.
3) Get to the Line
Auburn has a bit of a tendency to foul, so take advantage of that, get all the free points you can. Whether this be slashing with Wes, Terrence or KJ or getting the ball down low to Puryear or Gant, do what it takes to put Auburn in foul trouble. As noted, Auburn does not go very deep into their bench, so making them have to defend a little less tightly due to foul issues would be a good way to head towards a home victory.
Bottom line, this is a game Mizzou should and almost has to win. Looking at the rest of the schedule and the way the SEC has played to date, this is one of two KenPom predicted wins on the schedule, the other being Mississippi State. Lose this game and our Tigers could be looking at another long winter and things could go sideways in a hurry. KenPom has this predicted as a 76-73 win for Mizzou, I’m feeling a little more optimistic and think Mizzou gets the job done 72 – 68 icing the game late at the line. Share your thoughts and prediction in the comments and when you’re right, be able to lord it over everyone else!