With a record of 17-1 this season and 6-1 in SEC play, the Bulldogs are a perfect 7-0 away from home this year and will bring in perhaps the league's best player in Lawrence Roberts. Coach Cliff Ellis says this is going to be a huge test for his Auburn team on Saturday.
"They've been consistent from day one," Ellis says. "They are just a tremendous team and are very close to being undefeated. They have really gotten a huge lead in the West. Somebody has got to work hard to catch them. They are having a great year."
A dominating player in the paint for the Bulldogs, Roberts has been the missing piece of the puzzle for a Mississippi State team that had no answer for losing Mario Austin after last season. The Baylor transfer is averaging 16.7 points and 9.9 rebounds this season and has 11 double-doubles in points and rebounds this year, which is second in the nation.
Auburn forward Marco Killingsworth says that keeping Roberts off the boards will be a big key for the Tigers.
"He's a rebounder," Killingsworth says. "We've played against a lot of great rebounders so far. He gets his points off the glass. He plays hard and he runs the floor hard. We just have to keep him off the glass. I think if we do that and watch the little 10-footer I believe we can shut him down a little bit."
While Roberts is the main weapon he is far from the only one for Coach Rick Stansbury as shooting guard Timmy Bowers can fill it up from the perimeter and plays much bigger than his 6-2 frame would indicate. Averaging 15.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and leading the team with 4.4 assists per game, Bowers is a dangerous weapon in Mississippi State's small, but quick lineup.
Frazier is third on the team in scoring at 12.6 points per game and also adds 3.5 rebounds. An Iowa State transfer, Power averages 7.7 points and 4.2 rebounds. He's averaging 11 points per game in his last two starts. Vincent is the bruiser inside for the Bulldogs, scoring just 6.4 points but adding 6.9 rebounds. Off the bench Marcus Campbell is the main weapon. The seven-footer is scoring 8.1 points and pulling down 5.1 rebounds per contest.
For the Tigers (11-6, 2-4) this game is close to a must-win if they hope to remain in the hunt for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. With one home loss already this season and dates against Kentucky, Alabama and LSU looming to end the season, they can ill afford to drop another home game at this juncture.
Killingsworth, a 6-7, 235 left-hander, leads the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game. He's also pulling down 6.7 rebounds and leads the SEC in field goal percentage at 64 percent from the floor. Fellow junior forward Brandon Robinson (6-8, 215) is second in both scoring (11.9) and rebounding (7.3) for the Tigers and appears to be closer to full speed after a full week off for the Tigers.
Junior guard Nathan Watson (9.2, 2.9), senior center Kyle Davis (8.1, 8.2, 2.9 blocks) and junior guard Lewis Monroe (2.3, 2.2 assists) round out Auburn's starting lineup. Ellis says that the week off should help his team this weekend against a physical Bulldog team.
"It gives us a chance to physically get some rehab done and focus on ourselves in practice," Ellis says. "I think mentally the season is a grind and it gives you a chance to catch your breath a little bit. You focus on yourself as much as you do the opponent. That's what we've tried to do."
Tip-off for the game is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday and there is no television coverage. Auburn returns to action Wednesday night when it travels to Arkansas for a 7 p.m. start that will be shown on Jefferson Pilot sports.