Coach Bruce Pearl doesn’t hesitate to say his Tigers will have their hands full against the 8-2 Musketeers.“This is the best basketball team we have played,” he says. “Without being at all critical of any of our opponents, and being more complimentary to Xavier, it’s by a pretty good margin
“I think Xavier will compete for the Big East championship,” Pearl says. “They have great depth, they have great size, they are very well coached by Chris Mack, they are experienced. They have been to the tournament eight of the last (nine) years and there is a 20-year stat that is almost as impressive (16 20-win seasons in the last 18 years). It is going to take our best effort.”
Bruce Pearl's Tigers will be playing just their fifth home game on Saturday.
The game, which will be televised on the SEC Network, is the third of the week for the Tigers who ended a three-game losing streak with an 80-62 victory over Winthrop on Wednesday night.
Pearl notes that he saw things he liked in his team’s last outing, which improved Auburn’s record to 4-5, but adds that the Tigers have major work to do as they continue to blend in roster additions Trayvon Reed at center and Alex Thompson at forward.
“My big focus has been let’s just keep getting better,” he coach says. “This team is going to expose us more and is going to challenge us. I find myself getting ready for our final practice before Xavier almost more concerned about focusing on us than them.”
Xavier, which leads the Big East Conference in scoring at 82.2 points per game, rebound margin (plus 7.5 per game), assists per game (18.7) and field goal percentage (52.6) is led in scoring by 6-6, 215 freshman forward Trevon Bluiett, who is averaging 14 points per game. Pearl predicts Bluiett will be an NBA player.
Matt Stainbrook, one of five six-foot-ten players on the roster, is second nationally in field goal percentage at .708. The 270-pounder is averaging 13.4 points and 6.9 rebounds.
Senior point guard Dee Davis leads the Big East in assists at 6.0 per contest and is scoring 9.1 points per game.
Xavier’s only losses were at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, Calif., where they fell 77-73 to UTEP and 73-70 to Long Beach State.
K.T. for 1K: K.T. Harrell topped the 1,000 points mark on a three-pointer with 13:49 to play in the second half vs. Winthrop.
20 to 2k: Antoine Mason, a graduate student transfer from Niagara, needs 20 points to reach 2,000 for his career.
Cinmeon Bowers is a transfer from junior college.
Bowers Powers: Junior power forward Cinmeon Bowers has played in nine games and has a double-double in six of those to lead the SEC. Only four players around the country have more. Bowers is averaging 12.1 rebounds per contest, which is third nationally, and is scoring 13 points per game.
Pearl Promotion: The first 1,000 fans entering Auburn Arena will receive a Bruce Pearl Bobblehead.
Tournament Teams: Xavier will be the sixth 2014 NCAA Tournament team the Tigers have played this season.
Defending Threes: The Tigers have allowed opponents to make just 18.7 percent (14-75) three-point shots during the last four games.
Up Next: Pearl’s Tigers will play one more game before taking a Christmas break when they face Texas Southern at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Auburn Arena.
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