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Preview: Bruce Pearl Returns to Nashville as Auburn Battles Vanderbilt to Open SEC Play

Bruce Pearl is back, but this time he's wearing a slightly different shade of orange. Can Vanderbilt get off on the right foot and start SEC play 1-0 by beating Auburn on Tuesday night?

I don't know what's going on up there, but it seems *terrifying*.
I don't know what's going on up there, but it seems *terrifying*.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Oh good. Bruce Pearl is back.

The once creamsicle-clad coach will return to the baseline bench at Memorial Gym for the first time since 2011 when he brings Auburn to Nashville to kick off the SEC season. Pearl led the University of Tennessee to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances and an 8-4 record against the Commodores in his six-year tenure with the Volunteers. Now, he's looking to get back on track with a Tiger team that has had just one winning season of SEC basketball since the dawn of the new millennium. In fact, no Auburn coach has left the program with a winning record in conference play since 1963.

Auburn is currently riding a five-game winning streak that includes victories over Texas Southern, Winthrop, and North Alabama. It also featured a gritty, two-overtime home win against Xavier, so the evidence suggests that this Tiger team has the talent to bring home an upset. Here's what you should look for when Vandy kicks off its SEC schedule on Tuesday evening.

KenPom Rankings: Auburn is 139th. Vanderbilt is 53rd.

Key Stat: 31.3%. That's what Auburn is shooting from three-point range this season - the 252nd-best mark in the country and a full eight percent lower than Vanderbilt's production in 2014-15. KT Harrell is a legitimate long range threat, but the Tigers don't have anyone else who can clear space and allow their forwards and wings to score at the basket. If Vandy can contain Harrell one-on-one, expect the 'Dores to slump towards the paint and dare Bruce Pearl to beat them from long range.

Matchup to Watch: Cinmeon Bowers vs. Damian Jones. Bowers was the crown jewel of Bruce Pearl's first recruiting class at Auburn, and the burly forward has not disappointed so far. The junior college transfer is averaging a double-double this season thanks to his ability to bully his way through the interior defense of his opponents. Bowers will have Vandy power forward James Siakam outweighed by more than 50 pounds on Tuesday, so that means that Damian Jones will be rotating over to help out when Auburn has the ball in the paint.

Auburn's standout big man is still an inconsistent player who can struggle against dynamic defenses. Jones, a 6'11" blockmonster who seems to crystallize from the ether to block shots along the baseline, is the kind of athlete that can fluster Bowers. The big Tiger disappeared in earlier losses to Texas Tech and Coastal Carolina. A big showing from Jones on the defensive end could mean a repeat of those performances.

Starters and Rotation Players:

Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Shelton Mitchell 5.2 2.8 5.0
G - Riley LaChance 13.1 2.8 2.6
F - Jeff Roberson 4.4 3.5 1.2
F - James Siakam 9.8 5.8 0.7
C - Damian Jones 16.6 7.1 1.0
Key Reserves
G - Wade Baldwin IV 7.7 3.6 4.4
G/F - Matthew Fisher-Davis 5.9 2.1 1.1
F - Luke Kornet 8.8 4.2 0.6
Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Antoine Mason 15.4 2.6 1.6
G - KT Harrell 17.9 3.5 1.4
G - K.C. Ross-Miller 6.7 1.9 2.5
F - Cinmeon Bowers 13.7 11.3 0.8
F - Jordon Granger 4.8 3.0 0.9
Key Reserves
G - Malcolm Canada 5.6 2.2 2.4
G - Tahj Shamsid-Deen 6.1 1.0 1.6
C - Trayvon Reed 2.3 3.7 0.3