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Dr. Z's Basketball Post-Mortem: The Winter of Our Discontent

Bruce Pearl's second season was supposed to be a turnaround. Let's just say the turnaround never turned out.

I agree Tyler, too often I wanted to hide my eyes as well.
I agree Tyler, too often I wanted to hide my eyes as well.
The Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports

I sat in my office yesterday and watched March Madness on my desktop in between the few patients I had scheduled.  I purposely thin my schedule out on Thursday and Friday, so I can enjoy the first days of the NCAA Tournament.   It is as magical, fun and riveting as any two day period in sports.  It's a day when Ivy League Yale can shock Baylor, and to anyone who follows the tournament, it is not a shock, because 12 seeds nearly always beat 5 seeds.  It is high drama on hardwood.

It would be even more fun if I had skin in the game. I Imagine how riveted I would be if Auburn was playing in the tournament.  I thought in the preseason of the 2015-16 season that Auburn had a pretty good shot to be there.  Bruce Pearl had just signed a very good class and had experienced players to go with the mix of returning talent.

Auburn opened with an impressive victory of UAB, a team that won two games in the NCAAs the previous year.   That was the pinnacle of Auburn's season.  It was all downhill from there.

In that game I saw a team that was long and played very good defense on the perimeter.  Sure, there were some blemishes on post defense and rebounding.  The offense stood a little too much, but the shooters were good enough that it didn't matter.

As November and December wore on, I began to notice some pretty huge warts.  Defensive intensity wasn't always there, and the offense was just flat out stagnant.  Too often Auburn settled for long distance jump shots.  There was very little penetration by the guards, other than Taj Shamsid-Deen.  It was glaringly obvious that Cimmeon Bowers had not learned or accepted that he was not a guard, as he would grab a rebound and takeoff down the floor with reckless abandon. More times than not, this would result in a turnover.

Then the injuries.  Auburn lost its best defender in Shamsid-Deen, then TJ Dunans.  New WIlliams never developed as we all thought.  TJ Lang was inconsistent.   Auburn was left with Kareem Canty as its only real scoring threat from the guard spot.  Canty was exciting from the get go, doing his best Steph Curry imitation.  But Canty probably did more harm than good in the long run.  His bombs were exciting, but often selfish.  When he was cold, he disappeared.  Auburn had not developed any sort of inside game other than the undersized Tyler Harris, who battled back problems for most of the season.  As Canty went, so went Auburn.

Defensive intensity was non existent, as no one on Auburn's defense really stepped up to be a stopper.  In SEC play, things got ugly quickly after an opening win over Tennessee.  Auburn played very few teams close, and in games they won, it was because they were hot enough to outscore people.

The biggest disappointment to me was team chemistry.  Canty obviously was all about Canty.  Bowers also showed symptoms of selfishness throughout the year.  During the Hawaii Tournament, you could see players jawing at each other over poor play.  Later in the year, Bowers was suspended, then Canty, who decided to declare for the NBA draft during his suspension.  Needless to say he's no where near ready to play in the NBA.  He'll be in Europe this time next year.

I think if you asked Bruce Pearl, he'd tell you he did a lousy job this season.  He brought in a bunch of journeymen who just never gelled.  The offense needs revamping into something that doesn't look like an AAU team out of Birmingham.  It's set up to play one v one.  There's no continuity, no movement, no purposeful passing.

Injuries didn't help and Danjel Purifoy would have been a huge addition, but all in all this team should have been much better than 11-20.

I think Bruce has found the SEC to be much more difficult than it was to navigate since his days on Rocky Top.  Several schools have upgraded coaches,  LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia and South Carolina namely.  Andy Kennedy continues to do well at Ole Miss, and Avery Johnson did more with less at Alabama.  I say all that to say that only 3 teams from the SEC got invites to the Big Dance.  Arguably two more probably should have.

Next year is a pivotal year for Pearl at Auburn.  For all of the hoopla surrounding his hire, and the feel good end at the SEC tournament last season, at the end of the day it comes down to winning games.

There is a much bigger interest in Auburn hoops, but the 2015-16 team burned up an awful lot of goodwill by the way they finished with suspensions and getting flat out embarrassed at the end of the season.  As a rule, SEC basketball fans, outside of Lexington, are a fickle lot.  They won't show up if things begin to go south.

I believe that Pearl is a good coach, but he may need to shuffle the staff to bring in someone who can put in an offense that doesn't just rely on jumpers that are 3 feet beyond the arc.  That, and an improved defensive intensity.

In any case, it was another tough year for those of us who are true blue basketball fans.  Here's hoping year three will be the turnaround.

War Eagle anyway.