After pouring over Auburn's Game Notes, I think I've figured out the key to victory: score more points than they do. Heady stuff, huh?
Auburn heads to Memorial 10-9 overall and 1-3 in conference play. They've made it interesting for Kentucky and Tennessee, but have ultimately faded before putting too bad a scare in either team. Their other games, against South Carolina (a loss) and LSU (a win) aren't that much more illuminating. Coach Jeff Lebo starts 4 seniors and a sophomore and is going 7 deep now that conference play has started. Senior guard DeWayne Reed is certainly the player the Commodores have to focus on. The 6'1, 175 lbs. senior strikes me as a poor man's Devan Downey (who torched Vanderbilt for 35 last Saturday). Reed enters the game averaging 16.5 points, 4.5 assists, and 1.6 steals on the season, and 19 point in his last 6. Auburn's second leading scorer is sophomore Frankie Sullivan, averaging 13.8 points a game, and is red-hot from downtown in his last 6, shooting 48.5%. Rounding out the backcourt is another undersized guard, senior Tay Waller. It's worth noting that the Tigers guards are a diminutive 6'1, 6'1, and 6'2. Seniors Johnnie Lett (6'8) and Lucas Hargrove (6'6) complete the starting line-up, with Lett's impact being more of a body than anything else. Hargrove, on the other hand, is good for 12/7 a game, and is shooting 50% from the FG in conference play.
Lebo has a weapon off the bench in the form of 6'10 senior Brenden Knox. Knox is averaging 8.8 for the season, but has been good for 10.3 in conference play in 23 minutes. Knowing very little about the Tigers, it's hard to know why Knox isn't starting ahead of Lett. Still, expect to see a lot of him, especially if the Commodores look to establish their inside game early.
Looking at the stats, it's apparent that Auburn does not play good defense. In conference play, opponents are shooting 49.8% from the floor and 37.3 in % from 3, which is not that much of a drop-off overall (44.7% from the field and 37% from 3 this season).
In SEC play, Lebo's squad is getting outscored in both halves (-19 in 1st and -17 in 2nd), and is averaging -2.7 fewer rebounds in their 4 conference games.
The last time out, Auburn beat the lowly LSU Tigers 84-80 in Baton Rogue. Certainly, winning on the road in conference play is impressive (even if against a bad LSU team). Still, their victory can be explained by a few key stats. First off, LSU lost because they shot a terrible 27% from downtown. You combine that with Auburn’s 22-33 shooting from the charity stripe, and you it's easy to see how the Tigers could be 0-4 rather than 1-3. Certainly, Auburn's 33 attempts was an aberration, as they hadn't attempted more than 21 free throws in any other conference game before Wednesday.
Between Vanderbilt's depth and it's size, Commodore fans have reason to be optimistic.
Stanimal notes: "AJ is averaging 19.7 w/ 8.7 boards per game in SEC play, Jeff Taylor is averaging 14.3 w/ 4.3 boards per game in SEC play, Jermaine Beal averages 14.3 ppg, Walker averaging around 6 ppg in SEC play (although his important is difficult to quantify in a stat line), and Tinsley averages 5." Those 5, plus Festus, The Future, Steve T., and Lance make Vanderbilt a dangerous offensive team. Here's a golden nugget from Stanimal: "The bench average of 55 minutes, 23.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and three blocks off the bench in SEC play, all while shooting 58.5 percent from the field is like ike having a dominant starter coming off your bench."
Certainly this is another game where VU should look to go to A.J. early and often. While I continue to be impressed with his second half play, it'd be great to see Ogilvy start off the game with some fire. Given Auburn's lack of size and difficulty defending the 3-ball, if Vanderbilt can score early inside, they will open up Vanderbilt's perimeter game.
Tomorrow's game tips at 12:30 and will be available on the SEC Network. More importantly, Vanderbilt will be supports Soles4Souls where fans are encouraged to bring shoes to the gym to benefit Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake.
What are you looking for tomorrow? What are your keys to the game?