The SEC's Worst Losses: Auburn

Frankie Sullivan is just going to keep shooting until it goes in. - Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt will have a winnable game to kick off the week when they host Auburn. Can they follow Winthrop's example and defeat a Tiger team that has been struggling lately?

Vanderbilt will look to win their second straight game when Auburn comes to town on Wednesday night. A victory against the Tigers would be a confidence building moment for this young Commodore team.

Vandy finally got back in the win column after a pair of heartbreaking losses and one blowout soured their start to SEC play. The 'Dores lost to Kentucky thanks to a Nerlens Noel jumper that came after the shot clock had expired in their league opener, and then followed that up with a 33-point effort in a loss to Arkansas. This team looked like they had turned it around when Kevin Bright's corner basket gave them a three-point lead with 3.2 seconds to play against Ole Miss, but Marshall Henderson's buzzer beater gave the Rebels new life against an exhausted Vandy squad.

The Commodores were able to rebound against South Carolina to pick up a huge win on Saturday, and they'll need another strong defensive showing to power through a winnable game tomorrow night. Auburn started off conference play on the right foot with two straight wins, but the Tigers have lost their last two, falling to common opponents Arkansas and Kentucky.

Auburn is a talented team that has been playing better than their record indicates. They took then-#12 Illinois to the wire in a two-point loss and then toppled Florida State to round out non-conference play. The Tigers are led by veterans like Rob Chubb and Frankie Sullivan, and you can bet that these guys want to extract revenge on a Vandy team that has owned them in recent years. Auburn hasn't beaten Vanderbilt since 2007.

Can the 'Dores keep their winning streak over Auburn alive? Let's take a look at how Winthrop beat the Tigers to see if there's a blueprint that Vandy can follow in that game.

Auburn (8-9, 2-2 SEC, unranked)

Worst Loss: vs. Winthrop (KenPom #262, CBS RPI #267) 67-74
Other Losses: vs. Murray St., vs. Dayton, at Boston College, vs. Rhode Island, vs. DePaul, at Arkansas, vs. Kentucky

Auburn snapped an early three-game winning streak by losing to lowly Winthrop back in December. The Eagles had beaten just one Division I opponent before facing the Tigers, but they left Alabama with a seven-point win after leading by as many as 14 in the second half. Winthrop led by 12 with just over a minute to play, but Auburn was able to pull within three points as the clock wound down before Andre Smith hit a pair of free throws that effectively closed this one out.

Key to Destruction: Letting Frankie Sullivan shoot. The fifth year senior guard has been Auburn's engine on offense (17.4 ppg), but he's a chucker in every sense of the term. Sullivan is averaging more than 14 shot attempts per game and nearly seven threes despite some dire shooting percentages. Winthrop was able to use this to their advantage, as they let him shoot the Tigers into a hole that Auburn couldn't dig itself out of. Sullivan when 4-17 from the field and 2-11 from three point range to stifle his team. Frankie shot 23.5 percent while the rest of his team connected at a reasonable 44 percent clip, but he still took the bulk of his team's shots.

Keys to the Game:
  • MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS. This Auburn team is incredibly scrappy, and they proved that with a nine-point rally that nearly helped them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Winthrop. The Eagles bowed up late, hitting their free throws to stem the Tiger rally despite a rash of turnovers late in the game. Vanderbilt has had trouble protecting leads, and Auburn is able to score in bunches. Unless the Commodores can curb their momentum by making their jumpers - and, more importantly, taking care of business at the free throw line - then they'll be ripe for another come-from-ahead loss at home.
  • Defend Frankie Sullivan...but don't foul him. We covered Sullivan's prolific shooting above and showed how his low efficiency can hurt the Tigers. However, the 6'1" guard has shown a perchant for getting to the free throw line and making his shots from the charity stripe. He went 12-12 against the Eagles to score the bulk of his 22 points in Auburn's loss. If he can put together a similar performance, he'll throw Vandy out of rhythm and force backcourt guys like Kedren Johnson and Dai-Jon Parker into foul trouble early.
  • Be efficient. Winthrop was lucky to come away with a win in this one. They turned the ball over too much (19 TOs) and got out-rebounded by the Tigers, giving away extra possessions and allowing Auburn to rack up 11 more shot attempts over the course of the game. The way that they survived was by taking advantage of their opportunities. The Eagles shot nearly 71 percent from inside the three-point line and got to the free-throw line 25 times, leading to a 1.51 point per shot average. Vandy has averaged 1.16 points per shot so far this year, so they'll need to step their game up against a scrappy Tiger team.
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