A long cold spell in their shooting left the Vanderbilt Commodores with too big a mountain to climb Saturday. They made a great comeback in the last fifteen minutes and scored a whopping 56 points in the second half against the # 2 nationally-ranked Florida Gators, but lost 95-85, and still look for their first win in SEC competition. On Wednesday, they have an excellent opportunity to break their streak of twelve consecutive losses to conference opponents when they play the Auburn Tigers.
The Tigers won an emotional 59-56 victory over Alabama, 15th ranked nationally, on Saturday at Auburn. This came after an 83-77 home loss to Arkansas and a 69-65 defeat at Mississippi. In pre-conference play the Tigers had an 8-3 record, their best wins coming over Marshall 78-60 and Southern Mississippi 64-55. They also defeated High Point, Jacksonville State, McNeese State, Florida International, South Alabama, and UNC-Asheville, and lost to Rutgers, Louisiana Tech, and Virginia. Auburn's worst loss to date was by a mere six points (the Arkansas game), so there is no reason to think that they will be an easy opponent for anyone.
Personnel problems have plagued Coach Cliff Ellis this year. First, point guard Lincoln Glass was academically ineligible for the fall semester and missed the first seven games. Then forward Mack McGadney was suspended for disciplinary reasons; since returning, his minutes have been less than half of what had been expected before the season began. Forward Abdou Diame left the team, then requested to be allowed to return, but has played little since being reinstated. Finally, center Kyle Davis suffered an injured elbow that caused him to miss the first two conference games.
Depleted as they now are, Auburn's greatest strength lies at point guard and the wings. 6'6" junior Marquis Daniels has taken over the point this year, after Jamison Brewer unexpectedly entered the NBA draft. Last year, he was a third-team All-SEC shooting guard, averaging 15.7 ppg and 7 rebounds. His scoring this year has fallen off to 12.1 ppg, but he is still grabbing 5 rebounds, making an equal number of assists per game, and leading the team in steals. Glass, 5'10" senior, backs him up and scores 3.5 ppg. Both Daniels and Glass can shoot the three.
Derrick Bird, 6'4" junior, is a transfer from Schoolcraft College in Michigan, who starts at one of the wing positions. He is averaging 12.4 ppg, and hitting 35% of his three-point efforts. He is very quick and is the team's best defensive player.
Adam Harrington, 6'5" junior, starts on the other wing. He is averaging 15.5 ppg last year, but his output has declined this year to only 9.5 ppg even though he is making 35.6% of his three-pointers. He is due to break loose. 6'4" freshman Dwayne Mitchell (3.4 ppg), a highly regarded recruit, is another wing player who has been getting a lot of minutes.
Davis, 6'10" sophomore, led the SEC in blocked shots last year, and already has 42 blocks this season. He is scoring 5.7 ppg and is pulling off 5.4 rebounds. Unfortunately, he reinjured his elbow in the Alabama game and it is doubtful that he will be able to play against Vanderbilt.
If Davis does not play, 6'8", 240 lbs freshman Marco Killingswoth is likely to take his place. Killingsworth is not much of a shot-blocker, but he is a better scorer than Davis (7.8 ppg), is getting about four rebounds per game, and adds a lot of muscle underneath when he is in the game.
Starting at the high post is 6'8" freshman Brandon Robinson (10.2 ppg, 6.1 rebounds). He is a very athletic player who is expected to develop into an all-SEC performer.
It looks as though Ellis must depend on the two occupants of his crowded doghouse, McGadney and Diame, for a lot of minutes in the Vanderbilt game. Last year, the 6'7", 250 lbs McGadney, senior, was averaging 16.9 ppg and 9.3 rebounds, when he tore an ACL and went down after just eight games. This year, despite his reduced playing time, he is scoring 5.1 ppg. Diame, 6'9" sophomore, averaged seven points per game last year, and showed a lot of promise, but this year he has scored only nine points in the eight games in which he has appeared. Either McGadney or Diame, or both, could reemerge at any time and become major contributors.
All of the ten Auburn players mentioned above are quite talented and capable of making excellent contributions, if only they were healthy or involved. Also available are 7'0" sophomore Marin Bota, 6'3" freshman Nathan Watson, 6'5" freshman Lewis Monroe, 5'11" senior Charlton Barker, and 6'6" junior Donny Calton.
The Auburn game will be a tough battle for Vanderbilt, but the Commodores can (and indeed should) win if they can keep from being swept away on the boards. Even without Davis, Auburn is a strong rebounding team. Vanderbilt certainly has more and better shooters, about as much experience, and will be at home. Also, one would think that the Commodores have better team chemistry. Furthermore, Auburn could let down after the Alabama victory. Expect Vanderbilt to win by two to eight points.