Vanderbilt will try to extend an era of home-court dominance that spans decades when they host Auburn tonight. The Tigers haven't won in Memorial Gym since 2000, but they'll have a strong chance to pull off the upset against a rebuilding Commodore team. Veteran leaders like Frankie Sullivan and Rob Chubb will be gunning hard for the chance to beat Vandy for the first time in their college careers.
Can the Tigers beat Vanderbilt in Nashville? It seems like a longshot to anyone who has followed these two teams over the past few years, but Auburn is only a four-point underdog according to bookmakers in Las Vegas. To better understand what Kevin Stallings and his team will have to deal with, we went to the experts. Here's what College and Magnolia editor runyogasurf had to say about Auburn's makeup in 2013.
1. Auburn finished non-conference play with a flurry and got off to a hot start in the SEC behind a pair of wins against LSU and South Carolina. What, if anything, has changed in their recent two-game losing streak?
Runyogasurf, collegeandmagnolia.com: I think for the most part in the last two games, Auburn has faced much stronger teams. Defensively, Auburn struggles in transition and especially with dribble penetration. You could get a sense of that with both LSU and South Carolina but really saw it come to a head against Arkansas. LSU was a great game because Auburn got to open league play at home with a great crowd. South Carolina may have been a hostile environment, but after playing in Chicago against Illinois, it wasn't as much of a factor. Battling through two overtimes in Fayetteville probably contributed to the play at home against Kentucky, but more than anything, Auburn couldn't make good on open shots.
2. Despite a sub-.500 record, this Tiger team seems much more dangerous than Auburn teams of the past four years. What has made this team more competitive?
RYS: Auburn has struggled on the offensive side of the ball for several seasons. At the beginning of this year, the offense was mostly Frankie Sullivan. When Chris Denson
returned from academic ineligibility, he was on fire. We then saw Jordan Price
knock down eleven consecutive three-pointers, and Shaq Johnson showed he could do more than dunk -- he could shoot and rebound too. Rob Chubb and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum
started getting more aggressive and scoring points in the paint.
Despite the games against Arkansas and Kentucky, we are starting to see that the guys are really on board with Tony Barbee and his style of defense. Barbee wants a physical team that plays beyond its size and cleans up the garbage -- going after every loose ball and being as nasty and scrappy as possible.
3. Frankie Sullivan leads Auburn in scoring, but he's also taking a ton of shots to get there. Is there any concern that he might shoot the Tigers out of a game rather than into a lead?
RYS: Sullivan has definitely had a few games in which it appeared he was in an offensive slump, but those were also the games in which other players stepped up to put points on the board. I think that the bigger concern may be less about shooting and more about less-than-perfect passes and/or the inability to cover a guy in zone defense.
4. Jordan Price has been solid as a freshman for AU this season, and the sharpshooting guard returned from a foot injury to see playing time in Auburn's last game against Kentucky. What can we expect from him against Vanderbilt? Does he have a bright future ahead of him?
RYS: I love Jordan Price. We haven't had a pure shooter since Marquis Daniels, so it's exciting to see what Price can offer. He has grown up so much in such a short period of time offensively. He still shows that he is a freshman on the defensive side of the ball, but he knows that by providing better defense, it gives him the ability to make a bigger push for playing time.
5. Finally, how sad will you be to see the Rob Chubb era come to a conclusion?
RYS: Oh man. It has been an amazing journey to watch Chubb develop as a player over the last four years. We have seen him go from a skinny, tall guy to a stout, senior leader. His last name alone has provided us with endless hashtags, but he has also been a key contributor in Auburn wins this season. There will never be another Chubb.