Tigers and Bulldogs square off Starkville

Meeting in the first of two games scheduled over the next two weeks, the Auburn Tigers and Mississippi State Bulldogs square off at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville this afternoon for an SEC tussle.

Auburn is 13-9 on the season, but currently sits three games under .500 in SEC play at 3-5. The Tigers are coming off a 59-51 win over visiting Georgia on Wednesday night, improving their record at home this year to an impressive 12-1. That said, AU has posted just three wins in its last 12 games overall, and the team is a dismal 1-6 in true road tilts, and 1-8 away from home all together when you factor in a pair of neutral-site affairs.

Mississippi State is a stellar 17-5 on the year, but the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs fell to 4-3 in conference following a 69-57 loss at Florida last Saturday. Like its counterpart today, MSU has been nearly perfect at home this season (12-1), with its only setback there coming against Big 12 power Baylor in a 54-52 final back on December 28. This game marks the first of three straight the Bulldogs will play in front of the hometown faithful.

Auburn owns a 71-64 lead in the all-time series with Mississippi State, and the Tigers have won four of the last six meetings. However, the Bulldogs have owned the series in Starkville over the last decade or so, winning 10 of the last 11 encounters, and doing so by nearly 19 points per game.

For the season, Auburn scores about the same number of points (63.5 ppg) as it allows (63.3 ppg). Unfortunately that trend hasn't continued since SEC play began, as the Tigers are netting just 54.9 ppg in hitting a mere 36.0 percent of their field goal attempts, while foes are limited to 61.1 ppg on 37.6 percent field goal efficiency. As you can see, AU has and continues to play well at the defensive end, but sorely lacks offensive punch. The team has just two double-digit scorers in Frankie Sullivan and Kenny Gabriel, but their 11.9 and 11.8 ppg, respectively, isn't going to intimidate the Bulldogs today, or any opponent for that matter. Gabriel (7.9 rpg) is the team's top rebounder, but Auburn is pretty much dead even on the glass (+0.1), and the turnover battle has resulted in nearly the same (+0.2). The Tigers put on another defensive clinic in the recent win over Georgia, holding those Bulldogs to 25.0 percent shooting from the floor, which included a 6-of-23 showing from three-point land. The Tigers shot just 33.3 percent themselves, and hit only 2-of-11 three-point tries, but they committed just nine giveaways and claimed a 25-19 edge in points from the foul line.

Producing at the offensive end certainly hasn't been a problem for Mississippi State this season, as the team boasts three double-digit scorers and averages 73.0 ppg. Arnett Moultrie (16.8 ppg, 11.3 rpg) is one of a handful of players nationally averaging a double-double, as he continues to make his case for SEC Player of the Year honors, while Dee Bost (15.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.6 apg) and Rodney Hood (11.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg) add support from their spots in the MSU backcourt. Renardo Sidney (9.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) is close to joining the double- digit scorers' club, and he and Moultrie are both shooting better than 51 percent from the field. Defensively, the Bulldogs are yielding 65.7 ppg on typical shooting outputs of .428 overall and .345 from beyond the arc, and they grab 4.1 rpg more than the opposition on average. Moultrie scored 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in last week's loss to Florida, but he went just 4-of-10 from the floor and was guilty of six turnovers. Bost scored a dozen points himself, and Brian Bryant chipped in with 11, but the Gators committed only five turnovers and shot 48.2 percent from the field in claiming the hard-fought victory.