If you watched Auburn-Kentucky and weren’t entertained, then you have a problem with basketball as a sport. That’s fine, you shouldn’t feel obligated to like basketball. For those of us who like basketball, Auburn-Kentucky was as fun as a college basketball game in January can be.
TJ Dunans was amazing, TJ Lang filled in as well, Mustapha Heron was as solid as ever, but none of that matters when you’re playing against Malik Monk & Co. Kentucky hasn’t had a guard I’ve enjoyed watching this much since John Wall. Monk is liquid offense: a distilled concentrate of basketball excellence. Foul trouble from both teams made this a game have its lulls, but it was always going to be a game between guards, and without Purifoy Auburn was never going to have a chance.
To everyone who hates on Auburn’s lack of motion on offense, or who thinks Auburn takes too many early shots in the shot clock, look at Kentucky. They take shots as quickly as they can and run Iso sets for all five players. It is the opposite of what college basketball looked like 25 years ago, but it is so deadly when you are as talented as they are. They have enough banners hanging in their rafters to show how successful this brand of basketball can be, and the best players keep choosing Kentucky over everyone else because of it. They have fun. Coach Cal sells fun and success.
Bruce Pearl is building a similar team, albeit with lesser talent to this point. I am hoping Austin Wiley shows me soon how he fits into this team. He is currently too slow to run the transition game Pearl wants and seems incapable of playing defense without fouling. As talented as he is, Pearl needs to find a way to build his confidence and Wiley needs to begin to deliver. He didn’t look like he belonged with the other blue-chippers on the floor in Lexington.
TJ Dunans sure did. This may be the game that catapults his confidence into the stratosphere. I am looking for big things from him in the games to come.
Auburn has to beat LSU tonight. There is no other option. Auburn can’t make the postseason if it can’t beat the LSUs on its schedule. There are 14 games left before the SEC tournament. Auburn is currently 11-6. If it wants to get to the mythical 20 win threshold, it needs to go 9-5 from here on out. Two of those losses will probably come to South Carolina and Florida, so that means Auburn can’t afford to drop home games to LSU on a Wednesday night.
The Purple Tigers are led by Antonio Blakeney, a really good sophomore guard. This team doesn’t have a Ben Simmons this season, but Blakeney is capable of going off for 30 if not guarded closely. He is averaging 17 points a game for the season.
In LSU’s losses, it has been blown out. Only one conference loss is by less than 15, a six point loss to Vanderbilt. LSU beat Mizzou by 11 a few games back but lost by 30 to Texas A&M the very next game and then by 15 to Alabama. Wake Forest beat LSU 110-76 back in December. With the talent Auburn has, it should blow past LSU early and cruise to a win if it is able to keep its composure in the second half.
Things I know about this team
When Austin Wiley is on the floor the offense is running through him more than you might think. He is now second only to Mustapha Heron in usage percentage. His size is making good things happen, even if he isn’t scoring to the amount I would like.
TJ Dunans is a scoring machine when he isn’t turning the ball over. His turnovers-per-minute is highest on the team at .101. He is a super aggressive player, so that isn’t a surprising statistic, and I think he has done a better job recently at protecting the ball.
Things I think about this team
I think Auburn is going to beat LSU twice, Alabama once, Georgia and Ole Miss. If it can pick up one win from Mississippi State and one from Texas A&M, Auburn will be looking at a post-season tournament no matter what it does against Tennessee and Arkansas. This is counting South Carolina and Florida as sure-fire losses, which I hate to do.
Things I want to see from this team
I want to see Auburn play at the breakneck offensive and defensive pace it showed in the early second half against the Wildcats. That was insanely fun. If Auburn could make that happen for a whole game, there aren’t many teams outside of Lexington who could hang with them.