Tennessee is already sputtering down the stretch of their SEC schedule. Now they’re met with perhaps the toughest five-game stretch of the year. We looked at this schedule and knew that the Volunteers would have a tough time closing through this stretch, but it looks even more difficult knowing what we know now.
First up will be the first of two meetings with the Auburn Tigers, who have absolutely had Tennessee’s number over the last few years. Bruce Pearl’s team sits at 22-4 overall, coming off of two upset losses.
Those losses have come without freshman forward Isaac Okoro on the floor, who is dealing with a hamstring injury.
Okoro averages over 13 points per game for the Tigers, shooting over 50 percent from the field for the year. As Rick Barnes pointed out on Thursday, he’s part of the reason why we’ve seen a different looking Auburn team this season.
“They are different than they were a year ago — where they are not making normally as many threes as they made,” Barnes said. “They are relying more on an inside game and midrange game. They are capable like any team of having big shooting nights. They are more of an inside-out team than they were a year ago. They are a tough team to defend.”
Speaking of Auburn’s inside game, the Tigers have one of the better centers in the league in Austin Wiley. The 6-11, 260 pound big man averages ten points and nine rebounds on the year. He could amplify a rebounding issue for the Volunteers, who have struggled in that category all season long.
“They are really putting the ball in Austin’s hands a lot,” Barnes said of Auburn. “They are looking for ways to get him involved. I am sure they will do that a lot Saturday.”
Auburn’s leading scorer is 6-4 guard Samir Doughty, averaging nearly 17 points per game. The senior guard is joined in the backcourt by another senior guard in J’Von McCormick, who averages 12 points per game.
As Barnes mentioned, Auburn isn’t quite the shooting team that they were a year ago. Both Doughty and McCormick connect from deep around 30 percent of the time, which is considerably down from what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.
Tennessee sits at 15-11 overall coming off of a win against Vanderbilt. What should have been a double-digit win turned into a nail biter in the closing seconds against the Commodores. It was the second game in a row where Tennessee fell apart in the closing moments of the game.
“I thought the other night we showed how immature we were,” Barnes said of the Vanderbilt game. “Think about it — it’s been a long time since these guys have had a lead where, I thought they let down. They thought the game was over.
“What we have to cleanup is the last two games, in the last four minutes, we’ve turned it the ball over too many times, where they’ve been unforced. That’s what we have to fix.”
Tennessee has a chance for a big road win on Saturday afternoon, playing against a potentially shorthanded Auburn team. But they’ll have to fix those late game issues first if they want to capitalize.
Auburn and Tennessee will tip off at Noon ET on CBS.