Auburn, Ala.--Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn basketball team will try to climb back up to the .500 mark as one of the SEC’s top teams visits for an 8 p.m. tipoff on Tuesday at Auburn Arena.
Arkansas, which is 18-5 overall, 7-3 in the SEC and ranked 23rd and 24th in the major polls, will take the court vs. an Auburn team that is 11-13 overall and 3-7 in the league.
The Razorbacks have posted most of their wins at Bud Walton Arena this season with a 15-1 mark on their homecourt. Coach Mike Anderson’s team is 3-4 in road games. They have won five of their last six games, including a 61-41 home victory on Saturday vs. Mississippi State.
The Razorbacks feature one of the SEC’s top players. Bobby Portis, a 6-11, 242 sophomore forward, is averaging an SEC-high 17.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, statistics that impress Auburn’s coach.
“He leads the league in so many categories, scoring and field goal percentage,” Pearl said. “He is one of the better offensive rebounders, and he is able to block shots. Stat-wise he is probably the best center in the league as far as numbers are concerned.
“It should be a great matchup for Cinmeon (Cinmeon Bowers) and for him to have to guard him and try to score on him,” Pearl said. “They will both have to keep each other off the boards so it is a great matchup.”
The Tigers will have to keep their eyes on Portis.
Commenting on Bowers, who is averaging 13.5 points and 11.1 rebounds, Pearl said, “He is going to be playing heavy minutes and we are fortunate he is staying out of foul trouble because I think teams are going to continue to go after him for foul trouble so he has to be smart enough to stay out of foul trouble.
“Arkansas has a full roster and three or four guys that are on the bench that can play,” the coach added. “They are the closest thing to Kentucky in our league as far as depth and quality of their roster.”
Michael Qualls, a 6-6 junior guard, is one of the top athletes in the league. He is averaging 15.1 points and 5.3 rebounds. The third-leading scorer, 6-5 senior guard Rashad Madden, is averaging 9.7 points per outing.
“They turn you over more than anyone else in the league,” Pearl said of the Arkansas defense. “They turn you over 16-plus times, which means you get 16 less possessions to take the ball and score.
“They shoot pretty quickly,” he added. “They lead the league in field goals attempted. They are going to get it down there and beat you in transition. They play unselfishly. They do a really good job.
“They have five guys out there that can score,” Pearl said. “It is an equal opportunity offense for them out there and they are really hard to guard. They are so long that it is hard to shoot over. Michael Qualls will top-cover K.T. (K.T. Harrell). It will be hard to get him looks, and he will have to work hard to get open. They are better defensively.”
The Tigers turned the ball over just eight times in Saturday night’s loss to Ole Miss, a statistic that Pearl liked.
“Our point guard play is going to be key,” the coach said. “Tahj (Tajh Shamsid-Deen), K.C. (K.C. Ross-Miller) and Malcolm (Malcolm Canada) have to be able to get into them. It is going to be absolutely crucial.”
TV Coverage: ESPNU will televise the contest from Auburn Arena.
Worth Noting: Auburn’s K.T. Harrell is averaging 17.5 points per game, just .2 behind league-leader Portis of the Razorbacks. Harrell leads the SEC in three-point shooting percentage at 45.1 and three-pointers made per game at 2.8.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Antoine Mason has scored 24 and 23 points in his last two games. During that stretch the senior guard hit 13-27 field goals, 6-12 threes and 15-19 free throws.
Up Next: The Tigers travel to Athens on Saturday to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. CST.