(2017-18 RECORD: 20-2, 8-1 SEC) vs. (2017-18 RECORD: 8-14, 2-7 SEC)
|Sat, Feb 3||7:30 p.m.|
By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. – There’s no such thing as an off night in the SEC, not even when the first-place team in the league is playing the last-place team.
That’s why No. 11 Auburn, the SEC leader by two games, won’t overlook a Vanderbilt team that is at the bottom of the conference standings heading into Saturday’s matchup. The Commodores might be 2-7 in SEC play, but they already have wins over Alabama and TCU and they nearly won at Kentucky earlier this week.
“Bottom to top this could be the best league in the country,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “And when Vanderbilt goes and beats TCU, a TCU team that is definitely going to be playing in the tournament and probably winning games in the tournament, and they got beat by what was our last-place team, it just tells you how good the league is.”
Besides, like Pearl said, a two-game lead in the SEC this season means Auburn is one bad week out of fifth with teams like Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee hot on the trail.
So the Tigers will continue to play with that sense of urgency, with that chip on their shoulder regardless of who the opponent is because they still remember what it felt like to lose at Alabama two weeks ago, and they don’t want to experience that feeling again.
“After that Alabama loss, we know that we weren’t ready to play,” junior forward Desean Murray said. “We had a different mindset going into that, and [Pearl] just keeps reminding us that we are the underdogs. They projected us 4-14, so we’ve got to remember that every game we go in and play, and we’ve got to know that we’re going to have to play hard.
“Every team in the SEC is also good, so we can’t have a night where we just go out there and go half-speed.”
Saturday’s game is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT from Auburn Arena. Rod Bramblett and Sonny Smith will have the radio call on 93.9 Tiger FM, online at AuburnTigers.com and on the TuneIn app. The game will also be televised on SEC Network with Dave Neal and Jimmy Dykes on the call.
Player to watch: Bryce Brown
Junior Bryce Brown has been a key member of one of the top backcourts in the SEC this season. It took Auburn’s leading scorer just 14 games this year to surpass his scoring output of 218 points from a season ago. The Stone Mountain, Ga., native averages 17.9 points per game at home while shooting a blistering 45 percent from behind the arc. Brown has made multiple 3-pointers in all 11 home games this season.
Inside the series: Vanderbilt
Auburn trails, 89-51, all-time against Vanderbilt. The Tigers are looking to snap a 13-game losing streak against Vanderbilt dating back to Jan. 6, 2007, when they beat the Commodores, 68-65, at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
Vanderbilt is 36-29 all-time in games at Auburn, including a 4-0 mark in Auburn Arena.
Off to a good start
Auburn reached the 20-win plateau for only the 10th time in program history Tuesday night. Pearl, who is in his fourth season with the Tigers, is the sixth head coach to lead Auburn to a 20-win season and the second-fastest to do so, trailing only Mike Papke, who led Auburn to a 20-2 record in the 1927-28 season – his third season on the Plains.
Auburn has something that is rare among its competition in the SEC. The three-guard lineup of Brown (16.6), Mustapha Heron (15.3) and Jared Harper (12.8) all average over 12 points per game this season. Florida is the only other team in the conference to have all three of its backcourt players tout averages of 12 points per game or better.
Best show in town
Auburn has sold out its last three games at Auburn Arena, which is the first time there have been three consecutive capacity crowds in the 8-year history of the facility. There have been 13 sellouts at Auburn Arena in Pearl’s four seasons at Auburn (58 games) compared to just five in the four years before Pearl arrived (72 games).
Take a timeout
Click here to vote for Bruce Pearl and Children’s Harbor in the Coaches Charity Challenge. The coach with the most votes after four rounds wins $100,000 for their charity. Each charity will receive money for every round their representative coach is voted through.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @greg_ostendorf