Image Credit: Auburn Athletics
Auburn basketball (12-0) travels to Starkville to open up SEC play against Mississippi State (9-3) at 3:30 CST on the SEC Network. The Bulldogs are led by fifth-year head coach Ben Howland. Howland joined the program in 2015 after coaching for ten seasons at UCLA. During his time in SoCal, the Bruins made 7 NCAA Tournaments, including 3 Final Fours in a row. Last season, Howland led the Bulldogs to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009.
The Bulldogs are led by junior guard Nick Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon came alive during his freshman season, boasting a 47.2% shooting percentage. His sophomore season was cut short by a suspension for a violation of team rules. This forced him to miss the school’s NCAA Tournament game vs Liberty. This suspension extended into this season, as Weatherspoon has missed the first 10 games of the 2019-20 season. He is now back and ready to take on the SEC again. Auburn fans will remember his brother, current Spurs G-League player Quinndary Weatherspoon for leading the Bulldogs to an upset of the then-16th-ranked Tigers at the Hump.
Rest of the Pack
In Weatherspoon’s absence, Mississippi State’s Tyson Carter and Reggie Perry have stepped up their game. Carter, a senior guard out of Starkville, has been consistent at point, shooting 38.1% and averaging 4.2 assists per game. With Weatherspoon returning at point guard, expect Carter to move to SG. Perry, a 6-10 sophomore from Georgia, has been big at the forward spot for Howland, shooting 51.1% and averaging 9.8 rebounds per game. Mississippi State will look to use his size Saturday.
The other two projected starters for the Bulldogs are SF Robert Woodard and C Abdul Abo. Woodard has shot an impressive 50.5% this season and is also shooting 51.7% from behind the arc. The Bulldogs will need him to show up to beat Auburn. Abdul Abo has been a key contributor, standing at 6-11 out of Nigeria. Abo averages 6.4 rebounds per game, along with 16 blocks this season. His size is “huge” for the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Off the bench, you should expect key contributions from two freshmen in D.J. Stewart Jr and Iverson Molinar. While Weatherspoon was out, both of these freshmen started and played key roles for the Bulldogs – Molinar started 8 games at PG and Stewart 2 games at SG, with the aforementioned Tyson Carter at point. Molinar shot 50.7% with 2.6 assists per game. Stewart shot 52.5% from the field.
Despite Mississippi State being unranked, this isn’t an easy game for the Tigers. Auburn didn’t enjoy their trip to Starkville last season and will have a tough time if they want to come away 13-0. The key matchup will be the battle of the 6-11s – Austin Wiley vs Abdul Abo. If State can use Abo to control Wiley, they have a good chance to come out with the upset. I think Wiley has a skill advantage over Abo and will help the Tigers come out with the win on Saturday. My prediction: Auburn 71-65.
PG:Nick Witherspoon – 6-2 JR
SG: Tyson Carter – 6-4 SR
SF: Robert Woodard – 6-7 SO
PF: Reggie Perry – 6-10 SO
C: Abdul Abo – 6-11 JR
PG: J’von McCormick – 6-0 SR
SG: Samir Doughty – 6-4 SR
SF: Issac Okoro – 6-6 FR
PF: Danjel Purifoy – 6-7 SR
C: Austin Wiley – 6-11 SR