Auburn lost to Mississippi State last night on the road, 92-84, for the fourth SEC loss of the young conference season.
"We've got six out of our next eight games at home. Just get the next one. I'm more concerned with process." - @coachbrucepearl— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) January 27, 2019
» https://t.co/KjuAaUesuU#WarEagle x #UnfinishedBusiness pic.twitter.com/T3sFcxRDdb
It’s a bit shocking after the Tigers won the SEC last year (sorry, Tennessee, you can’t be co-champions and lose the tiebreaker), but Auburn’s having more trouble putting things together this season. We touched on the absence of Mustapha Heron after the defeat at South Carolina earlier in the week. Without him, Auburn’s missing an almost-automatic 15 points per game, which would pretty much whittle the record down to one or two losses instead of four.
To be sure, the SEC is a tougher road this season. Last year it was Auburn and Tennessee, with Kentucky trailing behind, and A&M a contender when they were healthy and un-suspended. This year, nobody’s safe, and even the top-ranked Volunteers have had some close calls. Still, Auburn, even being deeper and probably more talented, can’t put it together.
There are a couple of different theories, and one of them is very valid. Auburn spent so much time without Austin Wiley that the Tigers got used to playing without him. They got really, really good without Wiley, and they learned to play as an exceptionally cohesive unit while he looked on. That’s no slight against Austin, he was simply absent for a full season, and Auburn found what worked without him. Now, he comes back, and the team has to adjust to playing with him. Except, he gets hurt, and a dynamic that had started to work really well suddenly goes out the window again. Auburn’s had to learn to play with several different lineups this year, and they’ve obviously struggled.
The 2018-19 Auburn Tigers are experiencing the same things that the 1999-2000 Auburn Tigers did — high expectations and some tough breaks with the roster — and it’s turning out the same way that year did.
Last night, Auburn’s offense was great, scoring 84 points on the road and shooting the lights out. It’s the defense that failed. Mississppi State hit 10 threes in the first half and then hit double-digit dunks in the second half. There’s a theme going that each time out, somebody has their career game. It’s infuriating. Look at this...
1/26/19: Quinndary Weatherspoon - 27 points, 4-5 three-pointers, 11-11 free throws
1/22/19: Chris Silva - 32 points, 11-12 FGs, 10-11 free throws
1/19/19: Tyler Herro - 20 points, 3-6 three-pointers
1/9/19: Terence Davis - 27 points
Those are the SEC losses, and Auburn has gotten drilled by one guy in each game. I really don’t know how that changes, but Auburn has a problem with the guy for the opposition.
The good thing about college basketball is that you just have to get to March. Make it to the Tournament and you’ve got a shot. There’s not a loss that’s going to be all-damning. It’s the combination of losses that’ll get you killed, but Auburn is still ranking high in KenPom, and the numbers still love the Tigers.
With the next three games at home (Missouri, Alabama, Florida), Auburn has a chance to win in front of the right crowd and get Wiley back healthy. Auburn’s remaining road games are at LSU, at Vanderbilt, at Kentucky, at Georgia, and at Alabama. That’s... not bad.
It’s a long season, and there’s still a ton of basketball left to be played, but it’s about time for the Tigers to figure it out. If they don’t, there are going to be even more disappointed fans than there already are.