College and Magnolia is a fairly recent addition to the SB Nation family, taking the place of Track 'em Tigers. I've never had the pleasure of communicating with them until now, but Kim, one of their fine group of writers, graciously reached out to us for a Q&A.
You can find my answers to her questions over on College and Magnolia. Here's how she responded to mine:
ASoB: Auburn has been a little up and down this season with a quality win against Florida St., but a bad loss to Winthrop. Is this team better, the same, or worse than Auburn fans expected?
C&M: It really depends on who you ask. I will readily admit that most Auburn fans you encounter can rattle off football facts on command. Basketball fans are just as, if not more, passionate but there are probably less of us. For me, I did come into the season expecting a better season than last year. Auburn would be without Kenny Gabriel but would return Frankie Sullivan. The way the team is playing now is probably what we expected at the start of the season. Better late than never.
ASoB: I see you have three injured players: Chris Denson, Jordan Price and Shareif Adamu. Are any of these guys likely to return for the UK game? Who do you miss the most?
C&M: Shareif Adamu was dismissed from the team earlier in the season due to violation of team rules. Chris Denson and Jordan Price are both out with stress fractures but Denson has hinted he will return for Saturday's game against Kentucky. Denson brings an offensive spark to the team. His ability to push in transition and draw the foul makes him a very valuable asset. Jordan Price went on a run earlier in the season to tie the SEC record of consecutive 3 point shots made (11) and delivered those in times when Auburn was in desperate need of someone other than Frankie Sullivan to provide points. Denson, being a junior, is definitely more experienced on defense so I will say I miss him the most.
ASoB: Teamwise, what has been your biggest struggle this year? What has succeeded better than expected?
C&M: Three things stand out the most in terms of struggle - perimeter defense, missed free throws and excessive fouling. Auburn has several guys that can make threes but I would not say there is one that is the go to guy. Because of that it is imperative to stay strong around the arc. There were games - Boston College and Rhode Island are seared in my memory - that the Tigers got torched. There are other games - notably Illinois and FSU - in which there was definite improvement but we would like to see this in every game moving forward. I still fret over the offense until the return of Denson and Price but it has been better than expected over the last few games. This team is still coming together and at times, lacks consistency so it is hard to say what areas are strengths.
ASoB: How do you like Tony Barbee? Do you think he has Auburn on the right path? Why or why not?
C&M: Tony Barbee has done a lot for the program in terms of getting students in the Arena and interacting with them outside of games. One can definitely sense his intensity and his vision for the program and it generates excitement in a way that Auburn hasn't seen since the days of Cliff Ellis. The fact that he is actively chasing big name recruits and getting them in for officials is a huge step in the right direction. I do think though that Barbee has to end the season at .500 or higher. If the conference were playing at a higher level as a whole, I think less wins might be acceptable but still, this season has to be better than last season (15-16).
ASoB: How do you see the game turning out? Give me your best and worst case scenario.
C&M: I love the Kentucky game and look forward to it every year. One of the reasons is because Barbee has our guys ready to play. Best case scenario is Auburn comes out strong in the first half and maintains momentum throughout the second half, especially in the final five minutes of the game. Auburn Arena is sold out and the students will be crazy. The keys to a victory are the guys that can shoot a three - Frankie Sullivan, Noel Johnson and Shaq Johnson - getting hot, Rob Chubb and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum having big nights in the paint and the whole team defending the perimeter. If Auburn can control the tempo and stay strong in the final minutes, the game belongs to the Tigers. My nightmare would the three things that I mentioned earlier - uncontested shots from behind the arc, missed free throws by the Tigers and excessive fouling.
ASoB: I have to ask a football question since you, like us, had an abysmal season and replaced your coach. How do you like Gus Malzahn? How is the fan feeling around the new staff, and next year's team?
C&M: I am really excited to have Gus back but I am anxious to see what kind of role defense will play in the overall gameplan. As you know, Gus loves a hurry up, no huddle offense and after a season like the Tigers had, some offensive prowess is definitely desired. The fanbase is pretty positive and pleased with the new staff, especially with Ellis Johnson leading the defense and the return of former Auburn quarterback Dameyune Craig to coach the wide receivers. Auburn still boasts tons of talent on both sides of the ball but we are entering the season with reasonable expectations. I think for the average Auburn fan to be happy, they just want to see strong conference play and a decent bowl.
Be sure to visit College and Magnolia and read the other half. We'll have more on the Auburn Game very shortly.