AU hoops: contenders or pretenders?Published 10:49am Wednesday, January 16, 2013
By Andy Graham
The Auburn Tigers defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia this past Saturday afternoon 74-71 in a hard-fought, physical match-up.
It was the Tigers’ third straight victory bringing their overall record to 8-7, but more importantly improving their SEC record to 2-0.
Beginning conference play with two wins might not seem like a big deal, but it’s the first time an Auburn men’s basketball team has achieved that feat since 2003 (that’s so sad).
Cliff Ellis guided the Tigers to four straight victories that year to open SEC play and would make it all the way to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tourney losing to eventual national champion Syracuse.
I certainly don’t see that kind of success in Auburn’s future this year, but it is a very promising start after a dismal nonconference schedule.
One of the most encouraging signs to the Tigers surprising start is that they have been able to overcome the loss of two very productive players.
Veteran guard Chris Denson who was averaging 15.2 points per game and true freshman Jordan Price who was really beginning to come on shooting 52.8% from behind the arc both have stress fractures in their feet.
Auburn is led by senior guard and team leader Frankie Sullivan, who averages 32.2 minutes and 17.2 points per game.
Of course, when teammates go down other players have to step up.
6’ 10’’ senior center Rob Chubb did just that Saturday against Carolina with 16 points and 10 rebounds (both well above his average).
True freshman guard Brian Greene Jr. also stepped up in a big way with a career-high 14 points against the Gamecocks.
I was at the SEC opener against LSU and I witnessed one player making a difference this year on the court, although his efforts don’t show up in the statistics.
Seven-footer Ashaun Dixon-Tatum is only averaging 14.7 minutes per game and 4.5 points per game, but his ability to spell Rob Chubb is invaluable.
This is the first time in the Tony Barbee era that Chubb can exit a game and there not be a precipitous drop-off at the center position.
Dixon-Tatum is not as big an offensive threat as Rob Chubb, but his ability to give quality minutes and keep Rob out of foul trouble has made a big difference so far this season.
Let’s be honest, LSU and South Carolina are not very good basketball teams.
In fact, the SEC as a conference is just plain woeful in 2013, but at Auburn we take any basketball success we can get.
A 2-0 start is nice, but the next two games will really show whether Auburn has turned a corner or not.
The Tigers travel to Fayetteville tonight and then return home to play Kentucky on Saturday.
Auburn hasn’t beaten Arkansas since 2010 and hasn’t won in Bud Walton Arena since 2009.
The Tigers are 0-for-the-century against Kentucky with their last victory coming in the year 2000.
The Razorbacks and the Wildcats have identical records of 10-5 and 1-1 in the SEC. Neither team has looked unbeatable this year, although most of their losses have come against quality opponents.
If Tony Barbee can somehow find a way to win one of the next two games, I’ll start to become a believer in this Auburn team, otherwise I’m afraid it’s just fools gold.
Graham is a columnist for The Outlook