College and Magnolia's Chris Fuhrmeister was kind enough to answer some (mostly) relevant questions about Wednesday's matchup between the Razorbacks and Tigers. Keen basketball analysis, sophomoric hashtags, and even a little Malzahn discussion ahead. To see my responses to Chris' questions, head on over to College and Mag.
1. Back in August, who would have ever imagined that Auburn's football team would fail to win a conference game while the basketball team would win its first two? Safe to say that Auburn isn't in danger of becoming a basketball school, but do you think the basketball team has benefited in terms of attention from the abomination that was 2012 Auburn football?
Not yet, but I think it definitely could. Had Auburn basketball gotten off to a flying start, fans probably would have turned out in larger numbers to the early-season home games. Instead, the Tigers started 2-5 with home losses to Rhode Island and DePaul. The students were showing up, but just about everyone else wanted to forget about Auburn athletics altogether.
However, if Auburn continues to win games in SEC play, the crowds will get better and better. The Tigers host Kentucky Saturday in a game that should have a great crowd no matter what happens Wednesday against Arkansas. But if Auburn wins Wednesday and goes into the UK game at 3-0 in the SEC and on a four-game winning streak, the atmosphere will probably be the best seen during the Tony Barbee era.
2. After losing its second-leading scorer Chris Denson to a stress fracture, Auburn has subsequently gone on its most impressive run of the season, with consecutive wins over Florida State, South Carolina, and LSU. How have the Tigers turned things around in Denson's absence?
I'll be honest, Auburn's recent run of good play with out Denson and Jordan Price, who recently tied the SEC record with 11 straight made threes and is also out with a stress fracture, is pretty stunning. Basically, players other than Frankie Sullivan have finally stepped up on the offensive end. When Auburn was struggling early, Sullivan was the only player that could score. Now, everyone is getting in on the action. In each of the last three games, five players have scored at least seven points
In particular, Allen Payne, Rob Chubb and Shaq Johnson have improved their play, averaging 13.3, 10.7 and 8.0 points, respectively. And against South Carolina Brian Greene Jr. came out of nowhere to score 14 points on 6-of-6 shooting.
3. Frankie Sullivan can fill it up when he gets going, and is currently second in the conference in scoring, averaging over 17 points per game. What is the key to keeping his production in check?
That's pretty tough, because when Sullivan gets it going, he really takes over the game. I think the best way to hold him down is by playing zone, forcing him to shoot from outside and hoping he's having an off night. Sullivan can get a quick trigger from behind the arc at times, and if he's missing, Auburn's offense can go cold.
But like I said, when he's in a groove, Sullivan is hard to stop. He'll beat the zone by knocking down threes, and if the defense switches to man, he can drive to the basket and either pass to an open man, score or get to the foul line. I think he's one of the more underrated players around.
4. Rob Chubb, bless his heart. You've got to be a fan favorite with that name, right? Tell us something good about Mr. Chubb, if you will.
Chubb is actually one of my favorite players, and he's having a solid season, averaging 9.7 points to go along with 7.6 rebounds per game, which ranks seventh in the conference. I have no way of proving this, but I'd be willing to bet that of all the seniors in college basketball, Chubb is the most improved player in the country. When he first became a starter in the dark days of the 2010-11 season, he looked like he didn't know how to play basketball, fumbling away entry passes, taking wild hook shots and drawing more off-the-ball fouls than any player I've ever seen. But he's developed into a pretty good post player, and he's a valuable team leader. Two years ago, I never would have believed that to be possible.
Of course, the best thing about Chubb is his name. Last season, Auburn played in an early-season tournament in Hawaii, and one game that finished well after midnight spawned a hashtag that is still celebrated: #LateNightChubb. Auburn fans on Twitter now adapt it to the appropriate circumstance (#EarlyEveningChubb, #AfternoonDelightChubb, etc).
5. Just one quick football question. Sum up the general attitude of the Auburn fan base toward the Gus Malzahn hire a) the day after, b) two weeks after, and c) today. One word apiece please.
A) Meh B) Optimistic C) Excited
6. On its surface, this game has the makings of one of those sleepy midweek SEC games that nobody watches or talks about other than fans of the participating schools. Regardless, it's a pretty important game early in the season for two teams needing to get out of the gate quickly. How do you see things playing out Wednesday evening in Fayetteville?
I think it will be close, and I really could see either team winning. I don't think playing in a hostile environment will affect Auburn, as two of the Tigers' best performances came in a win at South Carolina and a two-point loss to Illinois at Chicago's United Center. What I'm less certain of is how the players will handle Arkansas's press defense. I could see it being low-scoring, like the Razorbacks' 56-53 win at Bud Walton Arena last season, because Auburn's defense has been playing well lately, too (the Tigers have 26 steals during their three-game winning streak, one more than Arkansas has in its last three games).
In the end, I think Auburn will have the advantage, only because the Tigers are getting offensive production from just about everyone in the lineup. I won't be surprised if Arkansas wins, but I'll go out on a limb and take the Tigers, 63-60.