Hey, news flash. Last night’s 82-67 loss to Ole Miss wasn’t fun. It also confirmed a few things, and it’s troubling that those things are becoming trends more than aberrations.
This isn’t the SEC of five years ago. Sorry, Kentucky. You won’t find a gimme road game on the entire schedule.
Auburn’s got Texas A&M next week, and then road games follow at MSU, LSU, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama. Yes, there are certain teams in the SEC that don’t have the talent of others, but everyone can beat everyone. You can’t take a night off and expect to win, and that’s especially true for the Tigers as we lead into the next point.
Auburn is not good away from home.
Remember the 2017 football season? It’s my belief that Auburn was the best team in the country — nearly unbeatable — when playing in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The wins over Georgia and Alabama were evidence of that, but when the Tigers stepped away from home, it was a totally different story. The offense sputtered, and the defense broke down at critical times. This basketball season is showing some of the same things.
All three losses have come away from home, and while they were against good teams, I feel pretty confident in saying that if we played Duke, NC State, and Ole Miss at Auburn Arena, those are victories for the Tigers. the first two were six-point losses, and last night fell apart down the stretch. It’s the same story in each of those defeats, though. Auburn can’t seem to buy a bucket on the road. The three-point shooting (11-32 against Duke, 5-25 against NC State, and 14-39 last night) only produces results with a ton of volume, and last night it was couple with horrendous shooting in the paint. Auburn hit just 8 field goals from inside the arc. Austin Wiley had none. Anfernee McLemore had none. What was supposed to be a strength this year — the interior — is suddenly hit or miss.
And the rebounding. My word, the rebounding. Ole Miss was tenacious, no doubt, but that was a poor showing of effort with the Tigers standing around much of the time. It was bad.
Hero ball doesn’t work.
Bryce Brown took 19 threes last night. Jared Harper took 9. In a game where that’s not hitting with regularity, the Tigers need to find something else. You’d think that the half-court offense would be something that could help out in that regard, but Auburn doesn’t seem to have one. Ole Miss consistently made Auburn take the ball out of the basket to start possessions, and the Rebel rebounding prevented a ton of fastbreak opportunities, because they’d send five guys to the boards while Auburn was leaking players out to run. Guess who was more successful getting to the loose balls?
Where’s the clutch free throw shooting?
Last year, Auburn was the best team in the SEC at the line. They ranked 18th in the country, hitting 77.4% of their foul shots (Tennessee was next at 75.7% for 40th in the country).
This year? Auburn is 268th in the country, hitting 66.7% of its free throws.
Look at the numbers from last year to this year...
Jared Harper - 82.2% to 85.1%
Bryce Brown - 77.5% to 76.9%
Chuma Okeke - 67.3% to 60.0%
Anfernee McLemore - 72.9% to 56.0%
Horace Spencer - 72.1% to 47.6%
Malik Dunbar - 58.1% to 61.1%
Austin Wiley (2016-17 to 2018-19) - 49.1% to 61.7%
It’s pretty clear where the discrepancies are, but even last night Jared Harper clanged a couple of key foul shots that would’ve cut the deficit down to the slimmest of margins. Auburn was 9-17 last night from the line, and that’s a trend that’s lasted throughout the season. Through 14 games this year, Auburn is 188-282 from the line, an average of going 13-20 from the line each game. Last year, Auburn went 19-24 from the foul line on average each game, so the Tigers are both taking and making less free throws than before. If Auburn was shooting last year’s percentage, that makes up the difference in losses to Duke and NC State.
Looking forward, Auburn’s at home against Georgia this weekend. It’s a huge game because we need it to let Bruce and company get their groove back. If Auburn can win and seemingly fix a few of the things listed above, then it’ll be both comforting and frustrating. We’ll have to see how it goes.