Monday, February 23, 2009
How was your weekend?
Let's be honest: the 65-59 win over Georgia at Beard-Eaves was nice, but the bigger development happened over in Oxford. Regression to the Mean is a harsh, harsh mistress: there's a reason a team that shoots 68 percent on its 2-point shots one game--layup line-quality defense or not, a simply non-repeatable performance--winds up shooting 49 percent on them the next, why one game your opponent's game-tying shot falls short and the next your own doesn't quite work out. And thus do the 'Dores beat Auburn at home, but lose to Ole Miss, and watch their SEC title slip away.
Well, probably slip away. Our Tigers could conceivably choke on applesauce next Sunday at their own homecourt coronation against a team with a losing SEC record. But it's not likely. That's Regression to the Mean's brighter side: when you've already wheezed past a team at home that came in riding a four-game losing streak with the SEC title on the line, odds are you'll do a little better next time. In their past two games Auburn has 1) played a pretty good game and lost because they were playing a good team on the road 2) played a fairly cruddy game and won because they were playing a mediocre team at home. 3) seems likely to be the good game-at home-mediocre team combination, and there's your outright title.
Of course, even if Auburn didn't play their best game of the year yesterday, given that they lost two players to injury mid-game and were facing an opponent that's seemed to save their best for the Tigers, things could have been a lot worse. Boddie could have not been her usual perfect self in transition or finished with 9 assists. The team could have missed more than four of their 24 foul shots, Bonner more than one of her 10. Chantel Hilliard (before she left with what seemed like a certain season-ender) and Trevesha Jackson could have not shucked their usual role-player roles and shot 8-of-13 for 18 points. Auburn could have lost.
But they didn't, just as we've been able to say 26 other times this year. They didn't, and so they are champions we've expected them to become. Say it one more time, and they'll be the undisputed champions they deserve to be.
I've never been comfortable with the term "moral victory," which sounds like something you declare after turning down a plate of bacon on your doctor's orders. But the Auburn men losing 79-72 to LSU in Baton Rouge is something. Partial victory? Semi-victory? Victory fragment?
Because make no mistake, LSU is easily the best team in this downtrodden league. And they were playing at home. And this is still the same Auburn team that was crushed by 19 the last time they played on the road against a team with a pulse. And hey if you've won four straight in reasonably impressive fashion, you'd be excused an off-night, right?
Yeah, Auburn didn't actually win, of course. They're still Auburn and still coached by Jeff Lebo, and if they'd actually won this game we might have to start thinking about them as something else. But during this past four-game winning streak (and at certain other optimistic points this season) we've started thinking of them as a better version of Auburn-under-Lebo, and the Tigers gave us plenty of reason to keep on thinking that: They shot just as well as the home team, held onto the ball nearly twice as well, saw Tay Waller and Vot Barber continue to push Auburn's offense ever-closer to competence even as the free throw woes continue, and if they never really got going on defense--too many offensive rebounds given up, too many trips to the free throw line for LSU--at least they came out after a rough first half and dropped LSU's FG percentage by 12 points or so. If LSU had had the decency to not shoot 95 freaking percent from the free throw line--if they'd shot their season average of 72 percent, they'd have hit 16 rather than 21 foul shots--this would have been a coinflip.
So, yes, this is a piece of victory. Maybe this team can keep collecting them, put them all together in Tampa, and match the title their female counterparts have won already.
Speaking of championships, when you have won so many that winning another one is more formality and procedure than thrill and surprise, you are ... well, pretty freaking awesome. And deserving of much more attention than most formalities. War Eagle, swimmers.
Confession time: I've never followed college baseball and just don't know enough about it to comment on Auburn's opening weekend in anything resembling confident fashion. I don't think losing to Elon twice on your opening weekend was particularly good, though. If you're interested in being the JCCW's special correspondent regarding Auburn baseball, shoot me an e-mail.