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The SEC's Worst Losses: Auburn

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If Vanderbilt can't beat the Tigers, then things may be irreparably wrong.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The last time Vanderbilt faced an opponent that looked like a slump-buster, they left Bud Walton arena with an overtime loss to Arkansas. Now they'll get to host a .500 Auburn team that no one can afford to take lightly.

The Tigers sit at No. 169 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, but burly big man Cinmeon Bowers, oft-overlooked forward Tyler Harris, and a backcourt duo that has averaged more than 31 points per game this season could give the Commodores trouble on their home floor. Vanderbilt looked sharper early on in their last game against No. 22 South Carolina, but the second half woes that doomed them in six previous losses reared their ugly heads once more in Columbia. Vandy endured a 1-18 shooting stretch that ultimately derailed its bid to get back on track with the first quality win of the season.

Beating Auburn won't carry the weight that a win over South Carolina (or Baylor. Or Dayton. Or LSU) would have, but it will still help restore balance to a team that has been caught in a downward spiral since the calendar flipped over to December. After a 6-1 start, the Commodores have gone 2-6 against a slate of solid opponents. Their only wins in that span came against Western Michigan and Wofford. Another loss would drop them to .500 on the season - and turn their NCAA Tournament chances from an uphill climb into a mountainous journey.

Auburn (7-7, 1-2 SEC, unranked in either poll and ranked No. 169 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings)

Worst Loss: vs. Harvard (7-8. No. 123 KenPomNo. 143 CBS RPI), 51-69
Other Losses: vs. Colorado, at Middle Tennessee, at Xavier, at Hawaii, vs. South Carolina, at Missouri

Harvard surged out to a 13-point lead in the first 5:30 of play and never looked back as the Crimson crumpled an ice cold Tiger team back on December 23rd. Kareem Canty shot just 1-15 from the field and the rest of Bruce Pearl's team combined to make barely 30 percent of their shots in an 18-point blowout in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic. Five different players scored in double figures to lead Harvard's balanced attack.

Point of emphasis: Lock down the backcourt. Canty's 1-15 number was the headliner, but Auburn's guards combined to make just seven of their 32 shots that afternoon. That includes a 5-21 mark from three-point range. The Tigers have some talent up front, but shutting down their rangy scorers at the source can stop this team from ever developing an offensive rhythm.

Keys to the Game:

  • Badger Cinmeon Bowers. The big-bodied forward led Auburn with 17 points, but that came on 17 shots and included a regrettable 2-9 showing from the free throw line. Bowers will try to create his own offense, but the Commodores have the length and strength to contain him up front behind Damian Jones and Luke Kornet. If they can drop a quicker guard in to pick his pocket on face-up plays, Vandy can frustrate him into another inefficient night. A 7.1% assist percentage suggests that he isn't the kind of passer who can take advantage of double-teams in the post.
  • Move the ball. 60 percent of Harvard's baskets came after assists, a ratio that allowed the team to shoot better than 47 percent despite being outsized for much of the game. Auburn's defense can be guilty of overcommitting on the ball. Well placed passes can create easy baskets
  • Create chaos. Auburn committed 16 turnovers against Harvard, a number slightly higher than its 14.6 per game average. That number ranks the Tigers 293rd among Division I programs - a testament to their sloppiness with the ball. Vanderbilt will get a chance to be the more composed team with the ball in its hands, and disrupting the Tigers should lead to several scoring opportunities.