Yes! The bottom of the SEC provides some excellent data for these articles. Auburn, Arkansas, and particularly LSU all present the rare combination of major conference opponents who offer little reward in a win and huge risks in defeat. Essentially, a loss against one of these teams would immediately become Vanderbilt's own worst loss, which would cause these features to collapse in upon themselves in some sort of meta-irony. While the fine folks over at Track 'Em Tigers would benefit, it would be a pain to clean that up here.
Last week, the 'Dores outplayed the Gamecocks by controlling the momentum of the game and shutting down every SC player not named Devan Downey. Without the offense to put together a solid run (until the game had already been decided), South Carolina couldn't find a way to beat Vandy. Let's look at what Auburn has in store for the Commodores.
Auburn (10-9, NR)
Other Losses: at Missouri St, at Central Florida, vs. N.C. State, vs. Troy, at Florida St., vs. Sam Houston St.
Auburn (RPI #143, KenPom #124) is currently tied for the SEC lead in losses, with nine, so there was lots to sort through. A home loss where Sam Houston State (RPI #116, KenPom #115) put up 107 points in a 18 point blowout was a leading contender for worst loss, but Troy, with an average ranking that excludes them from the top 50% of all Division I teams, got the nod. The team sports exactly one quality win - at home vs. Virginia - along with wins over High Point, West Georgia, Alabama St., Alabama A&M, and IUPUI.
Auburn is currently 1-3 in SEC play with a victory over floundering LSU, and could pose as an eager spoiler in the SEC Tournament. How Vanderbilt acquits themselves here could go a long way in previewing a potential SEC tourney matchup. If the 'Dores look past this team on their game to Knoxville and Lexington, it could torpedo the goodwill they've built up in the media during this eight game winning streak.
Key to destruction: Auburn plays like a mid-major; offensive firepower from the backcourt in an undersized lineup. This is a team that gives up a lot of baskets, and in turn pushes the pace to get them right back. Against Troy the team was out-rebounded and out-shot to a four point loss, despite 23 turnovers from the visiting team. Sam Houston St. provided a similar backdrop to the canvas of their victory - fast paced shooting and tighter rebounding against an undersized team and shoddy defense. These teams pushed the pace and outran an exhausted Tigers team that has little talent on the bench.
Vanderbilt can build off this. They aren't the uptempo team that Sam Houston St. or Troy is, but they are a superior squad that can use physical play to wear down their opponents rather out-run them. This will lead to better shots and a more efficient game plan. The size advantage will be key, as will the depth - Auburn only runs about five players deep, and when the bench empties, they create big time mismatches. A.J. Oligvy, Festus Ezeli, Andre Walker, and Jeffrey Taylor need to wear this team down from the inside-out to set up the Commodores' offense. Additionally, this is a team that has trouble shutting down strong scorers - so expect Taylor, John Jenkins, and Jermaine Beal to get lots of opportunities Saturday.
Offensively, Auburn is a streaky team that feeds off energy and quick scoring rather than wearing down the shot clock. The games against Sam Houston and Troy show that they can be pestered into bad shots and extended slumps. Without the personnel to crash the offensive glass and keep possessions alive, Ogilvy and Walker will likely be pressed into service more on the perimeter to stop Auburn's guard driven attack. Lots of double-teams and traps can break down the Tiger defense on the way to victory.
Keys to the game:
Run down the shot clock when the Tigers have the ball - Auburn wants to push the pace, but gritty defense will force them into mistakes and out of their uptempo game, where they stuggle.
Bully the Tigers on offense - this is a shallow team that has been worn down in the past. Rather than running past them, beat them up to throw some subs in the mix.