By Jackson Love
The Auburn Tigers (12-14, 6-11 SEC) have endured a long, up-and-down season. From injuries to key players to postseason bans to eligibility issues, the winter has been a far cry from what Tiger fans have grown used to, but there is a chance to go out on a high note. After winter storms swept the nation and forced a reschedule, the Mississippi State Bulldogs (14-12, 8-9 SEC) at last come to the Plains for the final game of the regular season.
Here’s how both teams stack up:
The Bulldogs are tall, an attribute that has given Auburn trouble in the past. The frontcourt houses the 6’11” Abdul Ado and 6’10” Tolu Smith, a pair that combines for right under 15 rebounds per game. Both also make over 50 percent of their shots. In the backcourt, Iverson Molinar and D.J. Stewart both play over 32 minutes per game and total 32.7 points per game between each other.
Mississippi State plays slow, with Ken Pomeroy ranking their pace of play at 297th in the country. While none of the Bulldogs’ numbers are remarkable, they excel at rebounding, hauling in 38.8 boards per game as a team. Winning the battle at the glass will be key to netting a road win to close the Bulldogs’ season.
Mississippi State has been on a strong run through the SEC since the postponement of the original Auburn game. They’re 3-1 in their last four games, with the only loss coming by just five points to Alabama. Prior to the original date for the Auburn game, though, the Bulldogs were 2-6 in their last eight games, and failed to reach 55 points in four of those. The Bulldogs also haven’t scored 70 points since February 10. It may well depend on which version of the Mississippi State offense shows up to decide the game.
The Tigers were originally coming off of a devastating loss to Kentucky leading into this game. This time, Auburn is returning home after an equally difficult loss to arch-rival Alabama. An injury to Sharife Cooper has neutralized the offense, which has failed to score 60 points in two out of three games since.
Previously, one would’ve said that Auburn is the better team going into this matchup, but without a true point guard running the offense, it’s hard to say that anymore. Without Auburn’s star players, guards Jamal Johnson and Allen Flanigan have taken on extra minutes, and it’s clear that that is not a recipe for success. Still, being on the home floor presents certain advantages. The Tigers will by all accounts be much more comfortable, similar to how they were last weekend against Tennessee.
Auburn will not be participating in the SEC Tournament this year, meaning that its season is over when the clock hits zero tomorrow. It’s the first losing season for the program since 2015-16, but the foundation is laid for a more successful year in 2021-22. That battle, for all intents and purposes, starts Saturday, as every player currently available to play is expected to return next season.
Key to the Game for Mississippi State
Win the rebound battle. The Bulldogs are 43rd in the nation at rebounding. Auburn ranks inside the top 25, suggesting a vicious battle at the glass from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Mississippi State needs to out-rebound Auburn and set itself up for lots of second chance points.
Key to the Game for Auburn
Score 70 points. Like Tennessee, Mississippi State likes to control the game. The Bulldogs are 2-4 when their opponent scores 70 points this season. Auburn needs to hit this mark and outpace Mississippi State if it wants to win.
Mississippi State was 5-8 in the SEC going into this game’s original date. Now, its conference record is 8-9. They’ve improved significantly since losing by 21 points at home to the SEC’s worst team. Auburn, meanwhile, has largely continued floundering.
But recent stats don’t account for what this game will mean to Auburn’s players. It’s the last time they’ll be on the court until next fall, and the last thing they will want to do is lose. It will probably end up closer than is comfortable thanks to the size matchup, but Auburn will win its last game and end the season with a positive.