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This Week in Auburn Hoops: Week 5

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To the hoop, ya'll, Watch out, Watch out, In yo' face, now here comes the rest

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at UAB Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Grab your morning coffee and pour yourself some gravy on those biscuits you made last night. It’s time to settle in, gain your winter weight, and watch the best athletes in the world play the best game in the world. It’s basketball season, y’all, and Auburn is starting to look like it has a squad after that win over the Blazers up in Ballingham. For a well-thought-out take on the quality of our team, read up on your Tuco.

Let’s check in on the Tigers:

Last Game

Auburn played a really good game and got a win over an experienced UAB team on the road, winning 74-70. Auburn was able to limit the Blazer’s best player (in my opinion) Chris Cokley by getting the Junior forward in foul trouble and not letting him get in a groove on offense. Auburn showed some signs of youth, and were in danger of allowing the Blazers to creep into a win, but free throw shooting proved to be a difference maker for the Tigers. I never thought I would be able to type that sentence. Danjel Purifoy was 4-4, Mustapha Heron 5-6, and Jared Harper 6-9. To have your three best players go 15-19 from the stripe is amazing, and not something Auburn fans have been used to seeing. Whether this is a trend for Auburn is yet to be seen, but Bruce Pearl teams are not known for foul-shots.

Speaking of those three, I would love someone in the comments to tell me if there has ever been a better trio of freshmen in Auburn basketball history, more on that later. Jared Harper is getting better with each game and is turning into a difference maker. Auburn doesn’t win that game against UAB without him (and without Ronnie Johnson’s smooth handles off the bench, it is truly amazing to have such great point guard depth a year removed from Cim Bowers running the point for Auburn). Purifoy is playing an absurd amount of minutes for a team that likes to rotate as much as Auburn. He has played almost a full game’s worth of minutes (38) more than any other player for the Tigers. Pearl doesn’t sub Danjel out because the game is so much more manageable for the Tigers with Purifoy in it. Mustapha Heron continues to be as good as advertised. Against UAB he had 11/7 in 27 minutes of work. For the season, his per40 minute stats are off the charts. He fills up the box score in a way that must be making scouts drool.

Next Game

Auburn plays the Boston College Eagles in something called the “Under Armour Reunion” on December 12 in “The World’s Most Famous Arena” Madison Square Garden. This season, Auburn has already played several teams, including UAB and Texas Tech, who are outfitted by Under Armour. It is beginning to make me wonder if the sneaker company is helping with schedule making (sarcasm).

The Eagles are 4-3, with losses to Nicholls State, Kansas State, and Richmond. The last two losses were both by more than 12 points and their best win was probably their 10 point victory over Towson back on November 23. That said, they have a guy averaging 20 points a game named Jerome Robinson who led all ACC freshmen in field goal percentage a year ago. He is a sophomore guard and scores 28% of his team’s points per game. No other player on the Eagles roster averages more than eight points per contest. If Jared Harper and Mustapha Heron can make this guy’s life miserable on defense, Auburn should cruise to its seventh victory of the season.

Things I think about this team

Auburn is a team that has done an amazing job against teams who are similarly constructed. When a team has a big lineup with physical, tall centers and forwards, Auburn struggles in half-court defense. I think Auburn will be fine against most teams in the SEC because of this. There really aren’t many big-man-focused teams in our league. Currently only Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama are led in scoring by a forward or center. Ole Miss has a Spanish kid named Sebastian Saiz who will also give Auburn fits, but that’s four teams in the entire conference who are offensively geared toward getting the ball to a big guy. Auburn is set up to be successful against most teams in the conference, matching strength for strength on the perimeter. If Bryce Brown can figure out where the basket is, I think Auburn could be a top three team in the SEC with its current roster.

Things I know about this team

A story in two photos. The first is the percentage of the team’s rebounds grabbed by each player

Laron Smith is an offensive rebounding machine, but he is woeful at blocking out and grabbing defensive boards. No matter, because Mustapha Heron is a full five percentage points better than anyone else on the team at cleaning the glass. He is a rebounding monster.

The next photo is the usage percentage of the Auburn Tigers.

The ball loves to be in the hands of Heron, Purifoy, and Harper. The amazing thing about this statistic is it allows us to see how valuable guys like Johnson and Dunans are off the bench, but also to see how much the Tigers still rely on three guys (Heron, Purifoy, and Harper) to get things done. Heron is the most quietly dominant Auburn player I can remember. Sometimes there are guys who will play a ton of minutes and you will think they had an OK game only to find out they dropped 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. Heron is that kind of player.

Things I want to see from this team

I would like to see TJ Dunans turn the ball over less. He has a ton of talent and can be an offensive spark off the bench, but needs to take care of the ball. Auburn’s depth is going to be its best attribute if he can be counted on to give Heron or Purifoy a rest against faster teams in the SEC. At the moment I am terrified when he has the ball.

I want to see more of those gorgeous blue uniforms the Tigers wore against UAB. Auburn looks really good this season. Under Armour did an amazing job with the “old school” look of last season’s uniforms, and they have made these even better.

Until next week,

War Eagle and Get Buckets.