Scouting Report: Auburn

Vanderbilt's win at Georgia showed Vandy Nation an attribute that has too often been absent – toughness. In previous seasons, or for that matter even earlier this season, VU teams would have folded in a game where its top two players were scoreless in a half and it trailed by as much as 14 points.

Maybe a light switch has been flipped, or maybe it was an aberration, but Commodore fans had to have been ecstatic seeing Festus Ezeli repeatedly block shots on aggressive Bulldog drives to the basket and seeing nearly everyone in a black uniform dive on the floor for loose balls. Add to that the Dores lock down defense over almost the last 10 minutes of the second half, where Georgia only scored on three free throws, and Vandy not only won on the road, but also came from behind.

Kevin Stallings and his team now have the chance to create a little bit of separation in the SEC East. With Kentucky's road struggles and now two wins over Georgia, a couple of wins lessens the possibility of anyone catching the Dores from behind, not to mention securing a first round bye in the SEC Tournament. And with the two worst teams in the SEC, Auburn and LSU, bracketing the February 22 matchup with that team from Knoxville, it could set up for an epic finish to the season with a road trip to Kentucky and possibly closing out the year against Florida with first place on the line.

AUBURN AT-A-GLANCE

To say the 2010-2011 college basketball season has been disappointing would be a major understatement in Auburn, Alabama these days. The Tigers sit at 9-16 overall (2-9) in the SEC) and are regarded by many college hoops analysts as the "worst team from a major conference." Offensively, the Tigers rank 299th nationally in scoring, and next to last in the SEC. Watching Georgia go nine and half minutes without scoring against Vanderbilt probably caused some uneasiness with Auburn coming into Saturday's game. Not only is the Auburn talent lightly valued, but also its roster is also young. There are not any seniors on the roster and of Auburn's top six players, two are sophomores, and two are freshmen. New coach Tony Barbee, hired from UTEB where he spent four seasons, certainly has his hands full. Barbee however made UTEP back into an NCAA Tournament team and learned his trade while recruiting for John Calipari at UMass and Memphis.

All that, yet I should say don't sleep on Auburn. It inexplicably has defeated both Mississippi State and South Carolina. The latter was on the road, where Vanderbilt has had its struggles in the past. The Tigers win over Florida State might end up being the dagger that bursts the Seminoles bubble. Vandy should win this one – big – but when one loss can nearly drop a team from second to last in the East, no one should be taken lightly.

STARTING LINEUP

Forward – Allen Payne
Freshman, 6-6, 205 2010-11: 6.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg,

Payne has struggled in his freshman season, but has also shown flashes of brilliance. A highlight for Payne's year was his 13-point, seven rebound performance against Tennessee. While Auburn lost the game, like it frequently does, Payne showed an ability to be physical, earn trips to the foul line, and capitalize on those free throws.

Forward – Kenny Gabriel – Junior, 6-8, 190; 2010-11: 9.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, .305 3-PT %

Gabriel may be a beanpole at 6-8, 190, but he is athletic. His frame fits better into Barbee's up-tempo style but his numbers have been up and down all season long. Gabriel also tends to fall in love with the 3-point shot. That's not uncommon for any college basketball player, let alone one in the Calipari-Barbee style of play, but the nights Gabriel shoots more 3-pointers also tend to be the nights the Tigers struggle.

Center – Adrian Forbes Junior, 6-8, 230; 2010-11: 3.8 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.6 rpg

While Forbes, a junior from Jamaica, gets the starting nod, he only plays about 15 minutes. When he does catch the ball, Forbes is effective near the basket. He shoots a little over 46 percent from the field and has shown an ability to use his body to create scoring chances. Forbes tends to be liability on the foul line however.

Guard – Josh Wallace Sophomore, 5-10, 160; 2010-11: 5.6 ppg, 3.8 apg

Wallace, out of Pensacola, Florida, is a walk-on who not only has earned playing time but also has found his way into the starting lineup. As one might expect with a walk-on, Wallace defers to his scholarship teammates. In fact, Wallace understands his role quite nicely. He has not attempted a 3-pointer in his last five games. While Wallace's assist numbers are fairly decent for a sophomore point guard, his turnover numbers are quite high too. The experience of Brad Tinsley makes this one of the better matchups for Vandy on Saturday.

Guard – Earnest Ross Sophomore, 6-5, 215; 2010-11: 13.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg,

If there is a lean on player on the Tigers' roster it is Ross. Ross is Auburn's leading scorer and the only Tiger to play over 30 minutes a game. He also happens to be the best outside shooter on the team and his 6-5 frame allows him to shoot over quicker defenders. Ross appeared to be peaking after scoring 30 and 21 points in back-t0-back games against Georgia and MSU, but then dropped off with seven points against Ole Miss. As with many of the Tigers, consistency has been a problem.

BENCH

Barbee's primary players off the bench are even more underclassmen, 6-10 sophomore Rob Chubb and freshman guard Chris Denson. Chubb is fairly effective near the hoop scoring just under eight points a game while grabbing 4.1 rebounds per game. Denson has steadily improved as the year has gone on. He was the team-leading scorer with 16 points in Auburn's last time out against Ole Miss.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Take it one game at a time.
One of the most difficult tasks in coaching is to coach a superior team against a vastly inferior team. This is compounded when the last game was a come from behind victory against a quality opponent and the next game is an archrival. If the Georgia game gave Commodore fans a glimpse of newfound toughness, this game may be the one that proves it.

Know who you are. Many times an inferior opponent tempts players to try to do things they do not typically do. Instead, the Commodores should look to improve on areas that should already be strengths. What are some examples you ask? Two things the Dores should focus on is a continued inside-out offense featuring Ezeli and a renewing of Jeff Taylor attacking the basket. The latter has been noticeably absent and is desperately needed if the Commodores are going to have any success in the NCAA Tournament.

VandyMania.com Top Stories