Tomorrow afternoon brings the struggling Auburn Tigers to Colonial Life Arena for a game of roundball. Here's a quick preview of the game.
Implications: We're not going to receive any accolades for winning this game, but at the same time it's a big one in that it's a must-win situation. If Carolina is to finish with a winning record and make a return to post-season play of some sort, it has to avoid letdowns against teams like Auburn. Remember the Arkansas and Alabama losses last year? Losing this one could have similar implications.
Key Matchup: Sam Muldrow vs. the Auburn "front line." Auburn's leading rebounder is a 6'5 shooting guard, and it's most effective big man is a 190-pound forward who makes our guys like muscular. In other words, this is a rare SEC game where Carolina has a distinct advantage down low. Sam Muldrow has been playing extremely well lately, and he has an opportunity to make a huge difference tomorrow, as AU doesn't have anyone remotely of his caliber. The question is whether or not Carolina will work the paint or not.
Why USC Could Win: If you haven't checked out statsheet.com's basketball coverage, you really should, especially if you like numbers. (As a quantitatively challenged humanities major, I am awed by the power of numbers and jealous of the machine-like brains that work with them.) Statsheet.com likes to talk about what it calls the "Four Factors," which are metrics for shooting the ball well, taking care of the ball, offensive rebounding, and free-throw shooting. Statsheet uses innovative, insightful formulas to measure these categories, such as adjusting FG% to reward teams that shoot threes well and measuring a team's proclivity for making it to the line as opposed to FT% under the assumption that teams that get to the line often generally win more games than teams that shoot for a high percentage but don't get to the line a lot. As those who follow basketball know, these "Four Factors" are excellent measures of a team's worth, as teams that shoot more (the TO and OReb factors) and make lots of shots (the FG and FT factors) tend to win plenty of games.
So, why bring this up here? Well, unsurprisingly considering Auburn's ineptitude to this point, we outperform the Tigers in each metric except for FTs, and FTs are generally the least significant of the four. That, along with the game being in the friendly confines of Colonial Life Arena, is good evidence in favor of putting your money on Carolina in this one.
Why USC Could Lose: As 16-point home favorites, USC shouldn't lose this game. Auburn has lost six straight SEC contests and lost OOC games to the likes of Presbyterian and Samford. However, lightning does strike from time to time, and the Tigers proved that they can rise above their lowly standard by beating a solid Florida St. team earlier in the season. The key is for Carolina to come out playing smart, disciplined basketball. If we play to our potential, we should win this game going away. However, if we settle for bad shots and give the ball away like we have at points this year, Auburn could very well beat us in an ugly one, particularly if the Tigers regain some of the magic they had when playing FSU.
Prediction: Carolina wins by 10-15.