Hey! We did it!
Auburn beat Vanderbilt yesterday, and actually covered the spread on the road. It’s the first time that the Tigers have beaten the Commodores in Nashville since 2000, and Auburn overcame an arena that’s been an absolute bugaboo for them year after year. It’s like the Tiger Stadium of basketball. We just couldn’t win there, and it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world yesterday against a team that still hasn’t won a conference game.
For the most part, the defense played just as well as it did the other night against Ole Miss, and as well as it did during the three-game homestand over the past couple of weeks. Vanderbilt shot just 33% from the floor, and hit just 5-23 from three-point range. The Tigers forced them into 16 turnovers, but Vandy did greatly out-rebound Auburn 41-24.
Auburn’s offense, however, still had trouble getting going. Hitting just 64 points, they shot 34% and went 9-25 from deep, but made some hay at the foul line, going 21-29 from the stripe. Fortunately, the Tigers got an even scoring effort, with Jared Harper and Bryce Brown combining for 30 points, Chuma Okeke adding 13, and Malik Dunbar chipping in another 13 off the bench. The first three guys mentioned there are turning into absolutely necessary scorers each time out, and if you can get a performance like Dunbar had (4-7 FG, 2-4 3-pt, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and just 1 turnover), then it really helps out. On the other side, Vanderbilt’s only threat was Aaron Nesmith, who finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds. The other starters for Vandy combined for just 16 points.
Unfortunately, there were some serious deficiencies for Auburn. Anfernee McLemore has had an up-and-down season, and he finished with just 4 points and 2 rebounds yesterday. Samir Doughty didn’t score, and Austin Wiley went 0-4 from the floor, and had just a single rebound. Auburn can’t survive against anyone in this league other than Vanderbilt if they get a combined 4 points from that trio. Nobody else pitched in, either. Horace Spener, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy... 2 combined points.
Yes, it was on the road in an absolute voodoo cave of bad karma, but Auburn won’t win many ballgames if they can only score 64 against the worst team in the conference.
On the other hand... Vandy took Tennessee to overtime in that building, and probably should’ve won that game if not for a crazy flagrant foul late. Is it possible that Auburn just played the unluckiest team in the SEC? Is it possible that Auburn’s schedule has been tougher than expected so far? Absolutely.
We learned some things from the rest of the SEC yesterday. Namely, Kentucky is still Kentucky. The Wildcats have the capability of playing like the team we thought they’d be to start the season. We learned that even the steady Volunteers, with all of their experience, can be prone to an ass-kicking. We learned that Alabama is bad at basketball sometimes, and even they nearly beat Tennessee. Mississippi State’s going to be without Nick Weatherspoon going forward, and that means that they’ll be weakened when they visit Auburn Arena. Arkansas’ lost three straight games.
The point is, Auburn’s remaining schedule has two top five opponents, and two road games aside from that. However, the Tigers are projected, as of today, to win in all but one of those games (@ Kentucky). Let’s look at the projections for the final six games of the regular season, as Auburn sits at 6-6 in the SEC right now.
- Auburn finishes 0-6: this would be an absolute disaster and likely would only happen with injuries and scandals aplenty. We’re not even going to entertain this.
- Auburn finishes 1-5: again, I think that with Arkansas, Georgia, and Alabama on the schedule. Auburn gets at least 2 of those. This is unlikely, but would probably put Auburn as the 8 or 9 seed in the SEC Tournament.
- Auburn finishes 2-4: wins against Georgia and Arkansas? Alabama or Mississippi State? It would be disappointing, and an 8-10 final record means that Auburn is still playing on the second day of the SEC Tournament.
- Auburn finishes 3-3: this is getting into likely territory. I’m not quite ready to chalk up wins against Kentucky or Tennessee yet, but if we can get three of the four from Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, and MSU, then it’ll follow suit with the rest of the season.
- Auburn finishes 4-2: Auburn would have a chance to catch South Carolina for the fifth spot in the final standings, but the Gamecocks have a really easy schedule down the stretch. Their hardest game is Ole Miss at home, but then they get to play teams with a combined 19-41 SEC record after that. They’re probably not going to lose a two-game lead to the Tigers, unless...
- Auburn finishes 5-1: Here’s where Auburn wins all home games and only loses at Kentucky. If this happens, the Tigers may catch Ole Miss or South Carolina for the 4th or 5th seed, but we’d need some help since both of those teams have the tiebreaker.
- Auburn finishes 6-0: I wouldn’t care if Auburn still ended up as the 6th seed in this situation. We’d get the winner of the 11 vs. 14 matchup, and then get to play the 3rd seed in the quarterfinals. Nobody would want to touch us if we were this hot.
There’s still a lot in play for Auburn, but there are some things that need to change in a hurry. We need to figure out the right lineup and go with it. There’s been quite a bit of experimentation this year, and it’s hamstrung the team as they’ve tried to find an identity. There are opportunities going forward, and Auburn needs to finish 4-2 to end the season with a winning conference record. If they do that, there won’t be any teams that want to see us in the SEC Tournament.