Well the loss to Ole Miss was rock bottom. I said in the last column that Auburn needed to beat the Rebels and Mizzou and they only went 1-1 against those two opponents. We know that Mizzou is one of the worst teams in this league, and Ole Miss has only lost to Florida and Kentucky in SEC play. What makes the Ole Miss loss so devastating is how badly Auburn needed that game, and how injured Danjel Purifoy is.
Mizzou is a bad SEC team. They aren’t the worst team Auburn has played this season, and they probably aren’t that much worse than Georgia in my estimation. Auburn beat Mizzou because it has the best player on the court in Mustapha Heron. Sometimes, in basketball, just having one guy who is better than all their guys is all you need to get a win. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Heron led Auburn in points and rebounds, again, and only missed one free throw the whole game. In a contest the officials decided should be determined from the line, going 6 for 7 on free throws is a big deal. Auburn was without one of it’s most important players in Purifoy, and Heron answered big.
The Tigers take on Kentucky on the 14th. This will obviously be the toughest opponent Auburn has played all year, and Rupp Arena will be the toughest environment in which the Tigers have found themselves. Beating Kentucky will require Austin Wiley stepping up in a way I am not sure he is capable of doing this early in his career. Auburn needs a guaranteed two points or a trip to the foul line from him when they get him the ball near the basket. Auburn needs him to clean up the glass much better than he did against Mizzou, when he only grabbed 3 rebounds in his limited 10 minutes of action. I know he was in foul trouble, but Kentucky is a team that doesn’t give many second chances to get the ball, and Wiley needs to capitalize on the ones they do give him.
If Mustapha Heron leads Auburn in points and rebounds against Kentucky, the Wildcats will most likely win easily, is what I am trying to say.
Danjel Purifoy’s injury might make this a blowout unless Bryce Brown found his stroke in Missouri. If he can get hot from three, he becomes the equalizer. No matter how many highlight dunks Kentucky gets, Brown’s shots will be worth one more point. Auburn needs him to go off.
Things I Know About this Team
I know Mustapha Heron is incredible. He is a box-score machine. Currently he leads Auburn in minutes played, points, free throws made, free throws attempted, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total rebounds (by 16!), and usage percentage. He is also currently responsible for 20% of Auburn’s total points. If you want to know what a five star prospect looks like in basketball, this is it.
Things I Think About this Team
I think Jared Harper and Ronnie Johnson are the best thing about this team this season. I know Heron is the best player, but having TWO solid point guards who can spread the floor, make free throws, and protect the ball is such an embarrassment of riches compared to Auburn teams of the past.
I also think Auburn is criticized by too many of its fans for not running enough set plays in the half-court. That’s a misguided criticism. Auburn plays at a high level of pace, hoping to increase the number of possessions in the game, just like the football team. When the shots aren’t falling, it looks bad, but when they are falling Auburn has the ability to jump out to big leads or even come from behind. Against Ole Miss, Auburn came from behind to make that a close game at the end NOT by running the Princeton motion, but by pushing the pace and taking shots early in the clock. The pick and roll at the top of the key to open up a Harper three is a designed play Pearl uses to set up a lot of things later in the game, and also because he knows Harper can make those shots. Eventually, I hope Wiley-Harper pick and rolls become a deadly combination with Wiley’s size and Jared’s speed and ability to make shots.
Things I Want to See
Less of Devin Waddell.
He is probably a good guy but his minutes make me crazy. He played 10 minutes against Mizzou and had as many points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and took as many free throws as Patrick Keim did and Keim played 0 minutes. I just don’t get it. I am pouring over these box scores looking for something Waddell does better than TJ Lang or T.J. Dunans and can’t find it. He turns the ball over less, except against Ole Miss when every pass he threw made me hold my breath. Bruce Pearl knows more about basketball than me and he has his reasons, but it is getting harder and harder to #TrustThePearlcess when I see Waddell in the game.