USA TODAY Sports
There was hope for the first time in years when Auburn was 2-0 in SEC play. Obviously, that was a mistake.
The Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Auburn Tigers, 57-49, Wednesday night at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, outlasting Auburn in a game that neither team really wanted to win. The final numbers for both teams were awful, but for the Tigers, they marked a new low this season. Whatever progress Tony Barbee has made in two and a half years seemed to evaporate in 20 minutes.
Honestly, it's an insult to James Naismith to call Wednesday night's game "basketball." Who knows what that was, but it more closely resembled a collection of 10 young men running around and randomly throwing a leather ball in random directions. Georgia just happened to do a better job, which is really saying something. The Bulldogs made 44.2 percent of their shots -- 23.5 percent from three -- were just 15-of-26 from the free throw line, committed 21 fouls and turned it over 16 times. Somehow, those stats looked like gold compared to the chickenfeed Auburn produced.
The Tigers (8-12, 2-5 SEC) shot 28.3 percent from the field -- that's 15-of-53, dontchaknow -- made just 4-of-20 three-pointers and 15-of-27 foul shots. Auburn only committed 11 turnovers, but the Tigers picked up 25 fouls. In case you weren't paying attention, Auburn had 10 more fouls than shots made from the field. Simply breathtaking. No one Tiger played particularly well, but there were quite a few who left plenty to be desired:
- Chris Denson -- Denson had a fine game against Ole Miss, and in the opening minutes against Georgia, he looked like he was picking up right where he left off. But after a 3-of-3 start, CD3 went 1-of-9 for the rest of the game, often trying to do to much in the lane and taking wild, out-of-control shots. Oh yeah, Denson -- a shooting guard, mind you -- was 4-of-9 from the free throw line, including one air ball.
- Rob Chubb -- For the second straight game, Chubb had little-to-no inside presence all night. He finished with five points on 2-of-7 shooting and six rebounds, and instead of using his size to fight to the rim, Chubb consistently pulled up for jump shots and hook shots in the lane. He did have a block and a steal, but he also committed four turnovers.
- Frankie Sullivan -- Even Auburn's unquestioned team leader couldn't put it together against the Dawgs. Sullivan scored 13 points, but that came on 12 shots, and he never found the stroke from three, making just 1-of-6. Frankie turned it over three times, and perhaps even worse was his 4-of-8 effort from the foul line. There's really no reason for Auburn's best player, a guard, to have a 50-percent night from the foul stripe.
Allen Payne didn't exactly set the world on fire, but he did lead the Tigers with 13 points -- albeit on 3-of-8 shooting -- four rebounds and two steals. Payne committed three turnovers, but he was 2-of-4 from the perimeter and 5-of-6 from the foul line. Again, that's not an outstanding line, but Payne seemed to be the only player in orange and blue with a good head on his shoulders against the Dawgs.
Just as everyone expected, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led Georgia (9-11, 3-4), compiling 20 points, 10 rebounds and a steal. Caldwell-Pope made 7-of-11 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free throw line, and Auburn didn't have much of an answer for him on the defensive or offensive end. Charles Mann added 10 points, six assists and three rebounds off the bench, and no other Dawg scored more than six.
Honestly, Auburn did what it needed to on defense -- or Georgia 's offense held itself back; you could look at it either way -- to win the game. Everyone knew KCP would have a good-to-great game and lead the Bulldogs in scoring, and the thought was that if the Tigers could keep Georgia's other players relatively quiet, they'd have a great chance to win. That happened, but unfortunately, Auburn was completely inept on the offensive end.
Trying to figure out Auburn's problems on offense is a bit like trying to figure out whether the chicken or the egg came first. There are two glaring issues plaguing the Tigers, and one is likely contributing to the other, but it's hard to tell which primarily responsible for the high level of derp. Auburn has no inside game at this point, and the Tigers are content with taking low-percentage shots too early in the shot clock.
We touched on Chubb's issues earlier, but they bear repeating. In the last two games, he just hasn't done enough on offense. His six points against Georgia came off a goose egg performance against Ole Miss, and that's pretty much inexcusable. Chubb is 6'10, 250 pounds, so while he may be smaller than some SEC big men, he has the size to play a physical game and get to the rim. Chubb should be posting up on players and either muscling his way to layups or getting to the foul line. Instead, he's shying away from contact and shooting jump shots or trying to finess hook shots and layups around defenders, often missing. As a result, Chubb has taken just four free throws in the last two games. Sure, he may not make a large percentage, but getting opposing big men in foul trouble is key to offensive success, especially late in games. Right now, Chubb isn't doing that.
Of course, Chubb isn't the only one to blame for Auburn's struggles in the paint. Asauhn Dixon-Tatum has completely disappeared in the last week and a half. Against Kentucky on Jan. 19, Dixon-Tatum scored 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting down low and 2-of-2 from the free throw line. In three game since, he's combined for two points on 1-of-6 shooting without getting to the foul line. Like Chubb, ADT has been pulling up for too many jump shots and shying away from contact. He's young, and hopefully, he'll put some more meat on that seven-foot frame, but Dixon-Tatum has regressed after showing some improvement earlier in the season.
Time after time against Georgia, Auburn players pulled up for three with 25 or more seconds left on the shot clock, and time after time, the shots clanged off the iron. When the Tigers are shooting well, their three-point barrage, especially in transition, is a huge asset. But they weren't shooting well Wednesday night, as the 4-of-20 mark indicates, and they kept taking low-percentage shots. Auburn really never let itself get into an offensive rhythm, mainly because it settled for outside jumpers with plenty of time left on the shot clock. Auburn had more than one stretch of several minutes without a basket against the Bulldogs, including 7:40 without a score from the field in the second half. During that time, the Tigers scored four points from the free throw line, and they missed 12 straight shots from the floor. Nine of those misses were jump shots. So even though Auburn couldn't hit a jumper, it all but gave up on trying to score inside.
Did Auburn's lack of an inside game cause the Tigers to shoot too many jumpers, or did Auburn shooting too many jumpers cause a lack of an inside game. It doesn't matter what the predominant issue was, because both aspects of the Tigers' offense needs work in a hurry.
Two and a half weeks ago, Auburn won its third straight game and moved to 2-0 in SEC play with a gritty road win over South Carolina. That seems like another lifetime, as Barbee's team has now lost five consecutive games. The Tigers played well in losses to Arkansas and Ole Miss, nearly pulling off upset wins. But against Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Georgia, the team looked lost. Wednesday night's game against the Bulldogs was a sobering moment, as it appeared to be an homage to the 2010-11 team, Barbee's first on the Plains, which finished 12-21 overall and 4-12 in SEC games. As of this moment, it doesn't look like this team will fare much better. Auburn's next five games are against Missouri, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas and Florida, and considering their inconsistent play of late, only a fool would bet on the Tigers in any of those contests. If Auburn loses them all, the Tigers will find themselves at 8-17 (2-10) with six games left in the regular season. It seemed like a near impossibility at the beginning of the year, but Barbee's seat would probably warm up a bit.
The season has gone off the rails, and if this team doesn't get it back on track soon, it's going to crash into a gorge. Things don't get any easier, as Auburn's next game is on the road against Missouri. Hopefully, Barbee will find a way to coach 'em up between now and then.