So much for that hot start to the conference season. The emotional win at South Carolina on Jan. 12 prefaced an overtime loss at Arkansas and two sound defeats at the hands of Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss (16-2, 5-0) at Auburn (8-10, 2-3)
WHEN: Saturday, 7 o'clock
WHERE: Auburn Arena
ON THE AIR: TV - FSN; Radio -- SiriusXM Channel 200, AuburnTigers.com (subscription required)
THE LINE: TBA
RATINGS PERCENTAGE INDEX (out of 347): Ole Miss is 71st; Auburn is 216th
COACHES: ARK - Andy Kennedy is 141-80 in his 7th season; AU -- Tony Barbee is 34-46 in his 3rd season
PROJECTED OLE MISS STARTERS: PG Jarvis Summers (6-3, Soph.), 8.5 ppg
SG Marshall Henderson (6-2, Jr.), 19.4 ppg
G/F LaDarius White (6-6, Soph.), 3.9 ppg
SF Murphy Holloway (6-7, Sr.), 15.4 ppg
PF Reginald Buckner (6-9, Sr.), 10.3 ppg
PROJECTED AUBURN STARTERS: SG Frankie Sullivan (6-1/Sr.), 17.2 ppg
PG Josh Wallace (5-10/Sr.), 3.6 ppg
G/F Shaq Johnson (6-5/Fr.), 4.6 ppg
F Allen Payne (6-6/Jr.), 8.3 ppg
C Rob Chubb (6-10/Sr.), 10.3 ppg
Coach Tony Barbee wasn't worried about losing to the Wildcats, but was more disturbed when trends continued in Nashville.
"Just been inconsistent in that area - defense -- and that's what's maddening as a coach," Barbee said. "Those are the things the defense, the toughness, the rebounding that's what you can do every possession, every game no matter what's taken place offensively."
Poor rebounding has been a concern during the past few games. Auburn conceded a minus-13 margin against Kentucky and went minus-8 against Vanderbilt. With the Tigers playing so much zone defense, which complicates box-out responsibilities, Barbee said he plays must play with a heightened level of awareness on defense.
"We have to put fourth effort. Rebounding is all about effort and pride," guard Frankie Sullivan said. "Like I said (in Nashville), that is something we aren't playing with right now. We are playing like we did something and not with a chip on our shoulder. Until we change that, we are going to keep being out-rebounded and out-played."
Barbee acknowledged that his team has the tendency to start off strong defensively and as games progress, a lack of focus tends to creep into their play.
"It seems like when we go away from our starting line-up for whatever reason ... we get out of sync defensively and then it's hard to get back into that rhythm," he said.
Throughout the season, Barbee has been toying with the idea of playing both centers, Rob Chubb and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, at the same time to gain a rebounding advantage. Chubb loved the idea -- calling it a very "advantageous" play -- and Dixon-Tatum's jumping ability always is a benefit.
The Tigers' troubles, though, aren't limited to defense. Auburn infamously went 0-for-15 from long range against Kentucky and haven't cracked the 42-percent shooting threshold since Fayetteville.
"I don't understand what's going on. It's just like the Kentucky game -- we had so many wide open shots that people just weren't hitting," Chubb said. "Sometimes you aren't going to hit shots, they don't always fall, but it's the fact that if they are not going down people need to recognize their shots not falling so they need to create for someone else."
Things are supposed to be better. Guards Jordan Price and Chris Denson returned from foot injuries in recent games, though Barbee Thursday said that he may have played them too soon.
He believes their abrupt return may have negatively affected the team's flow.
"It is hard to ride a bike for five weeks and step off of it and act like you're not going to miss a beat," Barbee said.
Auburn's next opportunity to end its skid comes Saturday against Ole Miss. A win won't be easy. The Rebels are ranked for the first time in years and feature the SEC's leading scorer in guard Marshall Henderson.