Auburn lost two of its three games at the Charleston Classic, which considering the hopes for this team, was a disappointment. It was expected that Auburn would likely struggle against Murray State, but the hope was that the Tigers have made enough progress to win their next two games. That didn't happen. The Tigers defeated Charleston, 55-51, but fell to Dayton on the final day of the tournament, 73-63. We learned a few things about the Tigers that are hard to stomach, however, maybe we were clued into a few things that could pan out nicely as the season progresses.
Murray State. Isaiah Canaan. Ed Daniel. We knew that the Racers' two seniors would be a lot for Auburn to handle – Canaan because he can hit anything and Daniel because he can rebound anything. We knew that Stacy Wilson was talented, but we had no idea he would hit 4 of 5 3s and finish the night with 18 points. Murray State quickly exposed a few things about the Tigers:
- Inability to defend the perimeter. Canaan and crew were 61.5 percent on 3s (8 of 13) and were mostly uncontested in the first half. They cooled off a bit in the second half but still made 3 of 10.
- Still prone to turnovers. The Racers had 9 steals and forced 20 turnovers. They made the most of the turnovers by converting them into 20 points.
- Unable to press effectively. Daniel is an incredibly physical player but manages to commit very few fouls. Auburn had the size and length to play against Murray State, but more often than not, the Tigers ended up being manhandled.
We cannot let the last statement stand alone because the one bright spot in Thursday's game was Asauhn Dixon-Tatum. Barbee subbed him in for Rob Chubb about three and half minutes into the game. ADT played 28 minutes, committed only two fouls and scored 12 points. Being a JUCO transfer, his development has to be accelerated, and so far, we are seeing more jumpers in addition to his usual repertoire of dunks, blocks and rebounds. The fact that he didn’t let Daniel push him around was impressive.
Frankie Sullivan showed his sheer will throughout the tournament. Sullivan left the Murray State game after crashing into the scoring table and returned for the College of Charleston game with 25 stitches in his arm. Much like the opener against IPFW, Sullivan took over in the second half and basically pushed Auburn into a victory, scoring 24 points against Charleston. And in the loss to Dayton, he was once again the Tigers' biggest offensive threat, putting in 23 points. We love seeing Sullivan in control, but it does give us pause as to who will step up and compliment the senior.
A possible candidate could be Noel Johnson. He had three gorgeous shots from behind the arc and finished the night with 12 points against Murray State. Another potential guy could be Shareif Adamu. He came away with 11 points and played 27 minutes against Charleston. Head coach Tony Barbee is changing up who we see and in what combinations, so one has to wonder if he contemplates this as much as we do. In the game against the Cougars, we were getting long glimpses of Shaquille Johnson, Jordan Price and Brian Greene Jr. We'd like to see a little more Jordon Granger in the mix, but his time will come soon enough.
We saw some new abilities from Auburn in Charleston, but we also saw more of the old issues that have plagued the Tigers in the past -- fouls and missed free throws. Those are what lead to liberal usage of the f-bomb. A physical defense will commit fouls, but Auburn is committing too many, and we have also more offensive fouls than we'd like. Dayton shot 81.3 percent from the foul line in the first half and 70 percent in the second half, leading to 27 points. The Flyers won that game by 10. Obviously, foul trouble cost Auburn that game.
Against Murray State, the Tigers lost by 20 and made just 17 of 30 free-throw attempts (56.7 percent). In a game against a better opponent, which Murray State was, taking advantage of opportunities for free points is paramount. Had the Tigers performed well at the line Thursday night, they still would have faced a likely defeat, but they would have been in the game and had a chance to win. Instead, Auburn trailed by 30-plus most of the night, and the game was over after about 10 minutes.
After splitting games against the Racers and Cougars, the Tigers had an opportunity to knock off Dayton and leave the tournament with some momentum. Auburn had plenty of chances in the second half and Sonny Smith mentioned on radio several times that in the previous games of the tournament, Auburn didn’t always get a lot of good looks but the Tigers were getting them against the Flyers. The shots just wouldn’t fall. There are definitely times when it is evident that communication is lacking as evidenced by wayward passes and rushed shots. Once Barbee settles into a rotation, shooting numbers should improve, but for now, the offense is just painful to watch.
Players to watch the rest of the way
Rob Chubb -- Barbee claims Chubb has everything it takes to be an All-SEC center but that it is up to Chubb. He still fouls a lot but at times, we get flashes of #latenightChubb from last season's game against Hawaii. His hook shot still needs work (soft hands! Soft hands!) but hopefully practicing with ADT will push him into more consistent scoring.
Asauhn Dixon-Tatum -- ADT had a big game against Murray State but only played 7 minutes against College of Charleston and 8 minutes against Dayton. Once he figures out how to limit fouls, this kid will be golden. Barely has to hop to make a basket in the paint and with the wingspan to hug the Auburn Arena, he is going to be a blocking machine.
The Unknown Shooter -- Auburn has to have a lights-out shooter from the arc. We've gotten glimpses from Noel Johnson, Jordan Price and Shaquille Johnson. If we were to put money on who would step up as the go-to guy, we would pick Noel Johnson.
Frankie Sullivan – He is averaging just over 32.5 minutes and an impressive 20.0 points per game. Sullivan will continue to be a big factor in why Auburn wins, but how many games can he carry the team by himself? Even with 23 points against Dayton, Auburn still came up short in the end.
This team is more talented than any Auburn team in recent years, and it plays with enough heart to steal more wins than it should, but this season will come down to how well Barbee can mold these guys. The athleticism is there, but will they be able to take the next step with better communication, better body mechanics to limit fouls and better jobs at winning the battles with defenders to create scoring opportunities? Auburn needs to figure it out in a hurry, because there is no rest before conference play. The Tigers face Boston College on Wednesday, Nov. 21 at the Conte Forum in Boston. Tip off is set for 3 p.m. CT, and the game will be aired on ESPN3.