Analyzing The Basketball Tigers

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about why the Auburn basketball team is off to a 4-0 start in Southeastern Conference action.

Thoughts and impressions from Auburn's 77-68 basketball victory over Alabama:

*Though he didn't have a good shooting night, I believe Marquis Daniels is the most complete Auburn basketball player since Chuck Person. He can play inside or outside. He can go strong to the basket and he can shoot three-pointers. He can handle the ball, he can pass and he can rebound.

In his Auburn career, Daniels has been a force at power forward and a force at point guard. On top of all that, he has stepped forward as a dynamic leader, the man to whom his teammates look on and off the court. The final basket of the game was vintage Daniels. He had the ball on a breakaway and could have dunked it. Instead, he bounced it off the backboard for Marco Killingsworth, who slammed it home to put the exclamation point on Auburn's victory.

*Those who wonder how Auburn could lose to Western Kentucky and Western Michigan, then play so well against Southeastern Conference competition, are overlooking the significance of Brandon Robinson and Nathan Watson. Robinson was suspended until the SEC opener against Vanderbilt and Watson wasn't eligible to play until after the fall semester ended. Without them, it is doubtful the Tigers would have won their first four SEC games.

*Though he is criticized for his lack of offense, center Kyle Davis' impact should not be underestimated. Davis is a defensive force inside. He blocked four shots against Alabama and altered at least twice that many.

*Something is missing on Alabama's basketball team. The Tide returned all but one significant player off last season's SEC championship team, but it hasn't looked like a championship team in league play this season. It's all about chemistry. After winning the SEC championship in 1999, Auburn returned all but one starter the following season. Even before Chris Porter was declared ineligible late in the season, it was obvious things were different. The chemistry just wasn't the same. Alabama has plenty of time to turn it around, but the Tide looked to be clearly the second best team on the floor Saturday.

*Hardly anyone outside Auburn players and coaches believed it possible before the season, but an NCAA Tournament bid is not only possible but probable. The Tigers need to win five of their remaining 12 SEC games to virtually lock up a bid. Six of those games are at home. With a two-game lead in the West, you have to say the Tigers are a serious championship contender. Even if they lose both of this week's road games--at Kentucky and at Georgia--they'll go into a three-game homestand no worse than tied for the lead.

*Killingsworth has to be one of the more improved players in the SEC. Thirty pounds lighter than last season, he is among the league's top scorers and rebounders.

Derrick Bird

*It's fun to watch Derrick Bird play defense. Bird drove Alabama's Mo Williams to distraction Saturday, making an early statement when he stole the ball on the game's first possession.

*No Auburn coach in a major sport in recent years has dominated Alabama like basketball coach Cliff Ellis. Even last season, one of Auburn's four SEC wins was over Alabama. The Tide has lost seven straight at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Auburn has won seven of the last 10 meetings against the Tide and almost won in Tuscaloosa last season and in 2000.

*Saturday's crowd was the loudest I've heard at Auburn since a win over Kentucky in 2000. It's a shame that fans at Auburn--and at many other SEC schools--don't consistently show up like they do in the ACC and the Big Ten. There is no other sport in which the crowd can have as much of an impact as in basketball.

*Though he was just 2-of-11 from the field, Alabama freshman Kennedy Winston looks like the real deal. He'll be a force before this season is over.

*I'd say point guard Lewis Monroe might be the most underrated player on Auburn's team. He doesn't score a lot, but he scores at crucial times. He's not flashy, but he's steady on both ends of the floor.

*Guard Antoine Pettway, who made the game-tying basket in Alabama's overtime victory over Mississippi State, played 33 minutes and didn't score a single point against Auburn. That was one of many keys to Auburn's victory.

*My guess on how Auburn's finishes? 21-8 overall, 10-6 in the SEC, second in the West. And, no, I would never have predicted that even two weeks ago.

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