Coach Tony Barbee's team is looking for its first SEC win of the season and will try to make that happen on Wednesday at Mississippi State before heading to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. CST as the Tigers (8-7 overall, 0-4 SEC) take on a Mississippi State team that is 12-4 overall and 2-2 in league play.
The Tigers are getting good production from the guard spots from senior Chris Denson, junior K.T. Harrell and freshman Tajh Shamsid-Deen. Denson leads the SEC in scoring at 19.5 points per game, Harrell is close behind at 18.9 per game and Shamsid-Deen is averaging 8.2 points and 3.3 assists.
However, production from the big men has been lacking for Barbee's team. Senior Asauhn Dixon-Tatum is averaging 5.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. His backup, freshman Matthew Atewe, is averaging 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds. The team's other center, seven-foot freshman Benas Griciunas, has been injured and has seen very limited playing time the past month.
"I am still trying to get my offensive game to help us at the offensive end," said Dixon-Tatum. "As far as the defense I have to show up every day. I feel I have to work more on my offense than my defense."
Asked specifically what he needs to do to become a more productive scorer, the seven-footer said, "I?would like to get the second-chance points. That is what I?have found myself to be good at--getting tip-ins, tip-backs, tip dunks, getting the rebound and putting it back up or being at the right spot at the right time so when the guards try to drive and they get cut off they can dump it down to me and I can go up and finish."
Commenting on what he wants to see from his post players, Barbee said, "More of everything. We are at a severe deficit in conference play in rebounding the ball."
The coach said the Tigers came through with some good rebounding efforts in non-conference play and need to duplicate that as soon as possible.
"We don't have a dominant big and that shows up on the defensive glass,"?Barbee said. "That is where have to do more. Everybody has got to help rebound, but we have to get more out of those (big) guys, too. They have got to give us more offensive rebounds, more production when they do get the ball in their hands when our guards are attacking and other teams are helping trying to take away our attacking guys.
"When they get the ball dropped off to them they have got to finish those plays they are not finishing," the coach added.
Asauhn Dixon-Tatum pulls in a rebound vs. Clemson in an Auburn victory last month.
Commenting on what he wants to see from Dixon-Tatum, Barbee said, "He has got to catch in traffic and not fumble the ball. He has got to block more shots. Where he really hurts our team as the starting five man (center) and getting the majority of minutes at that spot, the majority of the best rebounding teams have got more than just one (strong rebounder), but your center has got to be dominant defensive rebounder because he has got inside position the majority of the time when shots are missed. He has got to go corral that ball. We don't have that. We are not getting that from him. We have to have more of that along all of our front line, not just Asauhn."
Dixon-Tatum is averaging 22.3 minutes of playing time per contest and Atewe is averaging 14.7 minutes per game as he continues to make progress from a preseason stress fracture in his shin that kept him sidelined earlier in the season. The freshman missed six games recovering from his injury.
Asked if he is becoming more comfortable making the adjustment to college basketball as he gains experience, Atewe said, "I feel more confident, especially since my legs feel a lot better. I feel like I can play more and contribute more, especially defensively as my offense grows."
Atewe said that he is working on becoming a more physical presence on the court after feeling that he was "out-toughed" in Auburn's last road game at Tennessee. "I kind of put it on myself that is never really going to happen again," he said.
Atewe plays defense in Saturday's home loss to Florida.
Mississippi State comes into Wednesday's game vs. Auburn, which will be available for viewing on ESPN3, following an 81-72 overtime victory vs. Texas A&M. The Bulldogs are 10-1 in home games at Humphrey Coliseum.
The Bulldogs are averaging 70.7 points per contest and giving up 68.3. They are second in the SEC and 12th nationally with 9.3 steals per game.
Craig Sword, a 6-3 sophomore guard from Montgomery, is the team's top scorer with 15.0 points per outing and leads the Bulldogs in steals with 2.1 per game. Gavin Ware, a 6-9, 268 sophomore forward, is the number two scorer at 11.5 points and the top rebounder at 8.9 per contest.
Colin Borchart, a 6-8, 231 senior forward, is averaging 10.2 points and 4.3 rebounds. As a team the Bulldogs are averaging 34.3 rebounds per contest and giving up 34.9.
"They are a team that is playing well and they play very well at home," Barbee said. "They are scoring the ball at a very high clip and they are scoring a lot of points off of turnovers so you have to be strong against all of their defenses.
"They get their turnovers not by pressing, but out of being aggressive, attacking the basketball in the half court when you drive the ball," the coach added. "You have to be strong with it."