Trevon Bluiett (above) will present a tough test for Auburn on Saturday
Auburn, Ala.--For the third time this season Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers (5-2) will take to the road, but this trip will be a little different than going to Coastal Carolina on Dec. 2 or Nashville last Saturday. Standing in the way of a sixth win for the Tigers is undefeated Xavier. Ranked 10th in the country and a perfect 10-0 on the season, Pearl said the challenge the Musketeers offer is a major one for his team on Saturday.
“There is some impressive math here,” Pearl said. “Xavier is No. 1 in the RPI. Five out of the last eight years they have been to the Sweet 16. They’ve got the fourth-best winning percentage at home of any team in the country.
“They are sixth in rebound margin at plus 13, which is really significant because we have been a better rebounding team than last year, but it’s still not a strength for us. They are 19th in scoring margin--they score 81 and give up 63. They are some tremendously impressive numbers and yet I think it’s more about us than it is about them.”
Making it an even tougher challenge for Auburn is having two key players injured in the win over Mercer on Tuesday. While things look better for Kareem Canty after getting his ankle rolled against the Bears, sophomore guard T.J. Lang is more questionable after spraining his ankle and injuring his Achilles. Pearl said it’s wait and see for both, but they are at least hopeful heading into Saturday’s contest.
“I would anticipate he might be able to handle a walk-through,” Pearl said about Lang. “I know he’s been living with the trainer. I think Kareem will be okay. I would expect he’s a little closer to being able to play than T.J.”
Auburn will need to be at full strength to deal with a Xavier team that has six players averaging double figures in scoring led by 6-6 forward Trevon Bluieitt’s 14.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. A very physical team, Xavier also gets 10 points and 8.4 rebounds from 6-10 big man James Farr while fellow 6-10 standout Jalen Reynolds chips in 10.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest.
Already with wins over Missouri, at Michigan, Alabama, USC, Dayton and Cincinnati, Xavier has already shown to be a tournament caliber team and Pearl said this game will help him find out more about his Tigers as they get ready for life in the Southeastern Conference.
“One of the things I talked to the guys about is this is really the beginning our of preparation for the SEC right now,” Pearl said. “This road trip is to prepare ourselves for conference play starting Jan. 2. We’ve got four games to do that against four SEC caliber opponents either on the road or at a neutral site where we won’t have any advantages. Let’s see where we’re at. It’s about us right now.”
For Auburn that means taking the show on the road and trying to match the energy they’ve had inside the friendly confines of Auburn Arena. That won’t be easy because of Xavier’s success inside the Cintas Center, but Pearl said it’s time to see what his big guys such as Cinmeon Bowers, Tyler Harris and Horace Spencer are made of against a team that is one of the most physical in the country.
“Can we handle the environment?” Pearl questioned. “Can we handle their size? Can we handle the fact that they could dominate us on the boards? You look at the early stages of the Mercer game and they were playing volleyball on the backboards a couple of possessions and they’re not that big of a team. It’s not that Xavier is that big, but they all play big and long and they are physical. Our guys all have to step up in that regard.”
Tipoff for Auburn-Xavier is set for 11 a.m. CST on Saturday and can be seen on FoxSports 1.