Auburn basketball's motto coming into the year was #20plus, in reference to winning 20 or more games. I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel yet on that thought, and neither should you, but we should also think realistically.
Auburn has still yet to find a consistent scorer outside of Frankie Sullivan, Rob Chubb still struggles with touch around the rim and Noel Johnson is still the streakiest shooter I've seen in a long time. Josh Wallace does what Josh Wallace has always done: handle the ball, facilitate the offense and pass the ball. Wallace isn't going to all of a sudden become a scorer, so who does that leave? Freshman Jordan Price or Shaq Johnson? Not likely.
The Tigers will only go as far a Frankie Sullivan takes them on offense, and the problem is that other teams know that as well. When Auburn gets into conference play Frankie is going to garner a lot of attention, so someone else has to step up. Chris Denson is the most feasible option to step up and be that second scorer, but like Noel Johnson, he is also streaky and has an inconsistent jump shot. For Auburn to get to 20 wins -- or any where close -- someone will have to help out Frankie Sullivan. But who?
You thought offense was the only problem? Negative Ghostrider -- Auburn's perimeter defense has been abysmal all year, and if you don't defend the three in today's college basketball world, you will be beaten badly and often. Auburn's interior defense has been OK, especially when Asauhn Dixon-Tatum replaces Chubb. Dixon-Tatum is a far superior athlete to Chubb, and it wouldn't surprise me if Chubb's minutes began to decline more and more as the year goes on.
Auburn has been bad at defending the perimeter in multiple ways. The Tigers close out too hard, allowing the blow by, and if they don't close out hard, they close out lazily, and the shooter has an uncontested three. It goes without saying that this must change. Auburn has experimented with a 2-3 zone with mixed results. I think the Tigers actually defend the perimeter better out of the extended 2-3 zone, better known as the Syracuse 2-3. Tony Barbee is a big man-to-man coach and doesn't like to implement the zone unless absolutely necessary. The weird thing is that most teams implement the zone to slow down the inside game, but Auburn does it to guard the perimeter. The 2-3 almost eliminates the bad close outs and blow bys because of the lane being packed in, but Auburn has struggled with losing the shooter rolling to the corner for the kickout or swing pass. Rebounding out of the zone is also much more difficult than in the man-to-man because you don't have a certain man for which you are responsible, and offensive rebounders -- especially guards -- tend to find holes to get to the ball. Look for Barbee to continue to show different defensive sets in each game until he finds one that slows the opponent on any given night.
After all that, where should your expectations be for Auburn basketball as conference play inches closer? Well, 20 is still a possibility, and the SEC has some beatable teams this year. Alabama is dealing with injuries and can be defeated, Tenneessee CAN NOT score the basketball and both Ole Miss and Mississippi State are beatable teams. There aren't any really good teams in this league, aside from Florida and Kentucky.
Auburn has to shore up the defense and find a way to put the ball in the hoop for 40 minutes. The defense is fixable, but it has to be fixed, nonetheless. Auburn could lose to any team in the SEC but could beat everyone, minus Florida and Kentucky, too. The Tigers must put together some complete games on both sides of the ball in conference play, something they haven't done against a quality opponent all year.
This team shows signs of being as good or better than last year's team, but you can tell they miss Kenny Gabriel (We all miss KG :/). Auburn isn't going to reach or top last year's win total playing like it is currently, but the year is young and so is this team. If the freshmen can come on by the time conference play gets rolling and Chris Denson can become a difference maker,then Auburn has a chance to reach its goal. #20plus
CLAP CLAP! A-U!