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A spirit that is not afraid

No. 23 Tigers facing tough matchup with No. 2 Tennessee

<p>Dylan Cardwell (#44) dunks in a game against Georgia at Neville Arena on February 1st 2023.</p>

Dylan Cardwell (#44) dunks in a game against Georgia at Neville Arena on February 1st 2023.

No. 25 Auburn travels to Knoxville, Tenn. to take on No. 2 Tennessee in a marquee ranked matchup in SEC play. 

Auburn is coming off a conference victory of their own where they defeated Georgia 94-71, while Tennessee was just upset by unranked Florida on Wednesday by a score of 67-54. This conference matchup could serve as a momentum shift in the SEC standings as both teams sit at 7-2 in conference play. 

Auburn’s win over the Georgia Bulldogs on Wednesday snapped a two game losing streak. The Tigers were able to do so as Allen Flanigan had 22 points on 80% field goal percentage. Flanigan, who suffered an Achilles injury in December 2021, is slowly returning to form for the Tigers. This scoring outburst marked the first 20 point game since Flanigan suffered the injury.

Tennessee’s loss against unranked Florida was due to the fact they only shot 25% from three, down eight percent from their season average. The Volunteers have proven that they live and die from the three, as over the last six games they attempted an average of 23.7 threes a game with a 33.9% clip. 

Both teams come into this matchup with a 4-2 over the last six games. The Tigers have shot above their national average during this stretch, shooting 48%, and 31.7% from three. In Tennessee’s two conference losses against Florida and Kentucky, they have shot 34% from the field, down eight percent from their average per game. 

The Tigers are led by their guard play of late from Wendell Green Jr. and Flanigan. Green Jr. had 18 against Georgia and averages 13.6 points per game on the season. The frontcourt of Johnni Boone and Jaylin Williams are also key contributors to this offense. Boone averages 13.4 points per game and Williams averages 11.1.

Tennessee has been led by guard Zakai Zeigler, who has averaged 15 points over the last six games, well over his season average. Against Florida, Zeigler had 15 in the losing effort, but continues to build momentum for the Volunteers. Key contributors for this offense include Guard Santiago Vescovi, who averages 12.2 points, and forward Olivier Nkamhoua, who averages 11 points. 

Auburn’s below average three point shooting may cause some concerns for this game as Tennessee ranks first nationally in defense, field goal percentage allowed (34.5%), and three point percentage allowed (22%). Auburn ranks 345th nationally shooting 29.5% from three point range.

Tennessee has been a juggernaut at home as they have beaten opponents by an average of 25 points per game in Thompson-Boling Arena. Additionally, they are second in the nation in scoring margin at 18.5 points per game. 

The key points for Auburn in order to pull off an upset would be to use Tennessee's physicality against them and go to the free-throw line.  The guard play of Green Jr., Flanigan, and K.D. Johnson to drive and create points via assists, fouls, or points in the paint could be a focal point. Auburn ranks 38th in the nation in free throw attempts per game at 21.2. 

For Tennessee, their highly-ranked defense, physicality without fouling in the paint and ball-movement will be focal points in defeating Auburn. Tennessee ranks 13th in the nation at rebounding (averaging 39.7), 15th in the nation in offensive rebounds (13.3), and 9th in the nation in assists (averaging 17.6). 

The physicality of this game could determine the outcome of this game. If Tennessee can play to its strengths of defense without fouling, then it could build an advantage in this one. However, if Auburn gets Tennessee into foul trouble, then it could apply pressure on this top ranked team. 

The game between Auburn and Tennessee will tip-off Saturday at 1 p.m. CST and will be broadcast on ESPN as the Tigers aim to upset the No.2 ranked Tennessee Volunteers in SEC play. 

Chandler McDougal | Sports Writer

Chandler McDougal is a graduate student from Tuscaloosa, Alabama majoring in communication and journalism.

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