What kind of wonderful, beautiful world do we live in where Auburn basketball is 9-0 and one of only four undefeateds left in the country? It hasn’t always been pretty, with close wins against USA, Furman, and now St. Louis, but this team has been able to win in just about every possible fashion so far in the young season.
Saturday against St. Louis, the Tigers had to find a way when absolutely nothing was falling inside the arc, including free throws. Let’s take a deeper dive into how the win over the mythical good-luck gremlins played out.
The immediate takeaway from this game, before I even entered the stats, was that Auburn couldn’t hit a two-point bucket to save their lives. 33% from inside the arc is just terrible, especially considering that was an are the Tigers considered themselves elite at so far this year. Even after this abhorrent performance, the Tigers rank 9th in the country shooting 56.7% from 2. As Son of Crow pointed out to me, a lot of that had to do with 6’7” 250 lbs Hasaan French and 6’10” 270 Jimmy Bell playing the role of enforcer in the paint, forcing Austin Wiley to go 2-11 from 2. Not good, folks. Not good.
Luckily, as much as Auburn struggled near the basket, St. Louis was even worse from 3. St. Louis had been an above average team from 3, shooting around 36% until a posting a nightmarish 16.7% in the BJCC. This resulted in Auburn gaining the slight edge in eFG%, although neither team could claim to have had a good shooting night.
eFG% Advantage - Auburn
Just like above, the shooting woes carried over to the charity stripe. The only player to shoot better than 50% from the line was Samir Doughty, who sunk 5 of 6. Auburn has done a decent job, though, of at least getting to the line this season, largely in part to the hack-a-Shaq defense on Wiley. It carried over in this game, with Auburn attempting a 0.45 free throw for every shot attempted from the field. This was actually slightly better than Auburn’s season average of 0.39 FTA/FGA, although the 46% free throw shooting curbed that benefit.
Meanwhile, St. Louis only attempted 0.29 free throws per shot attempted from the field. Combine that with shooting around 40%, and the Billikens got effectively no benefit from shooting free throws Saturday night. This also brought the St. Louis’s season average down to 52.5%, good for... dead last in the country. Yikes.
FTA/FGA Advantage - Auburn
Here’s where the advantage for Auburn starts to show itself. Despite having a bad shooting night, Auburn played really solid possession basketball, racking up 10 assists to just 7 turnovers. I was worried about this team turning the ball over too much early in the year, and it can still happen when they start trying to force it into the paint to Wiley, but they’ve done a good job cleaning up passing in transition and not gifting the other team possessions with unforced errors. J’Von McCormick has settled in nicely to the facilitator-first point guard role, although nights like Saturday showed he can still break out a 20 point scoring performance from time to time.
The Auburn defense, though, has been excellent at forcing non-steal turnover with Bruce’s full court press. Despite Auburn only getting credit for 5 steals, St. Louis turned the ball over 12 times, roughly 18% of their possessions. It’s tough to show this with box score numbers, but this is where guys like Issac Okoro really shine. Big steals numbers are often associated with taking risks and getting beat or called for a foul. Forcing the opponent to make bad passes, though, doesn’t carry those same risks.
TO% Advantage - Auburn
Strangely enough, Auburn had one of its better offensive rebounding nights, grabbing 36% of the available offensive boards. Four different players had at least 3 offensive rebounds, led by Wiley with 5. This result shouldn’t be too surprising, though, as missing a bunch of two point shots will provide this kind of result. Missed three point shots are notoriously more likely to be rebounded by the defense, and Auburn actually made more of its 3’s than 2’s.
The biggest reason St. Louis stayed in this game, though, was thanks to Auburn’s poor defensive rebounding. The boards on St. Louis’s end were split nearly 50/50, compared to Auburn’s opponent’s season average being 28%. I don’t have this level of detail in the box score, but Auburn didn’t box out on several back-ends of free throws which we know the Billikens missed plenty of. Those second chance points allowed St. Louis to crawl back into the game every time Auburn tried to stretch the lead.
OR% Advantage - St. Louis
I’m not going to go super in depth here, but here’s my quick observations that I didn’t cover elsewhere.
- The game MVP was undoubtedly McCormick. His final line was 20 pts/7 reb/6 ast, but as mentioned before, he was critical in keeping Auburn’s turnover number down. He won’t go off like this every night, but it’s nice to see he can do this on occasion. His rebound numbers are legit, too, as he’s now averaging 4.8 per game.
- The heart of this team continues to run through the 5. In 41 combined minutes (Mac played a little 4), Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore posted 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocks. And this was a bad night for Wiley, maybe his worst of the season. These two may not be the offensive stars most nights, but they’re putting up consistently good numbers this season that keep this team afloat when others are struggling.
- Devan Cambridge had limited minutes, but this was another good night for him. He hit both of his 2 point shots, including a monster putback jam in the second half, and added stats in every column except fouls and steals. If he can provide that kind of energy for 10-15 minutes every night, that would be huge for the Auburn bench.
- He hasn’t earned it, especially with his effort on Saturday, but I desperately want Stretch to earn more minutes. His one minute against St. Louis resulted in him fouling and then not boxing out a free throw. If he could get to even just 5-8 minutes per night, that would give Mac and Wiley more of a chance to play on the floor together more, which I think might be the best lineup right now.
- Danjel Purifoy kind of disappeared in this game. He only played 19 minutes, sharing the mostly with Cambridge and Allen Flanigan, and in those 19 minutes he took just two shots. He did add 5 defensive rebounds that Auburn really needed, but he was a non-factor on offense. I don’t really have an answer here, but it might be worth keeping an eye on.