The Auburn Tigers are out to a 1-4 start on the young season. Georgia Southwestern is 3-1, having won three in a row. The Hurricanes haven't won four in a row since the 2006-07 season, and to notch a win tonight, they will have to go through the SEC team that has four losses against teams considered below the mid-majors in Division I.
Tip is 7 p.m. Central Standard Time.
"I think our guys are just excited about the level of competition," said GSW coach Mike Leeder.
The Hurricanes went to Auburn on Monday to get in a shoot-around at the Tigers' new complex, which opened this season. They have had a week off since beating Fort Valley State 89-77 last Tuesday while the Tigers and first-year coach Tony Barbee are coming off a 69-55 loss to Jacksonville on Saturday.
"They're definitely a group trying to find themselves," said Leeder. "New coach, and they had two of their better returning guys (Frankie Sullivan, Ty Armstrong) get hurt his summer. So when Tony got there, the cupboard was kind of bare. They're better today than they were three weeks ago."
Auburn lost to GSW rival and Peach Belt foe Columbus State 54-52 in an exhibition and has lost to UNC-Asheville (70-69, OT), Samford (79-68), Campbell (61-54) and Jacksonville. The Tigers rallied from 17 down to edge Middle Tennessee State 68-66 on Nov. 21.
The Hurricanes are shooting 54.1 percent on the season while holding opponents to 38.7 percent. Despite two blowout wins against lesser opponents (Knoxville, Clearwater), Barbee knows they won't be a pushover.
"They are a well-rounded team," he said. "Their whole team can shoot threes. They have five guys who average in double figures so they have a pretty balanced attack, inside and outside. They have a really good 3-point shooting team which we will have to get on their perimeter players, find them in transition and make it hard on them. They are a good team. They can beat you, so we need to come in here and make it hard on them defensively."
Interestingly enough, Leeder said the same of the Tigers.
They are led by a trio of sophomore guards in Andre Malone, Josh Wallace and Earnest Ross. Malone and Ross are averaging close to 14 points a game, and Malone has made 15 of 29 3-pointers (51.7 percent) on the season. They have at least four inches on GSW's guards which include Evan Mobley and Talmadge Bell.
"Their size and length will make it harder to get a clean look," said Leeder. "The window of opportunity is a lot smaller because of their length. They can recover from a mistake and any gap. We've got to pressure (Malone) and make him put it on the floor. He's a catch and shoot guy, and he doesn't like handling the ball."
Bell has had the hot hand for GSW, making 14 of 28 3-pointers so far and leading all five Hurricane starters in double figures with 16 points a game. Forward Phillip Brown has made 82 percent of his shots and is averaging 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Trayce Macon is scoring 11.8 points and grabbing 9.3 boards, and when he's not in foul trouble, Matt Shaw has averaged 10.5 points. Mobley (13.3 pts, 3.3 ast) will be in the lineup after sustaining a concussion in the team's last game, and Leeder's glad.
"He's our primary ball handler, he's been making shots, and he's our best on-ball defender," he said.
Leeder hopes the season numbers play out enough to their favor to earn possibly their biggest win of the program.
"We've got to make sure that after about the second media timeout, we're still competitive," he said. "We have to make sure it doesn't get away from us early. We've got to make a few shots, and I think we will. I'm optimistic we'll go out there and put on a good performance."