Monday, March 09, 2009
C'est la Vandy
We should probably get the bad news out of the way first: that No. 1 seed is probably not happening, unless both Louisville and Stanford take pratfalls in their respective conference tournaments. Auburn has to find a way to break down gimmick defenses and packed lanes before the NCAAs start if they want to make any serious noise going forward. That aggravating losing streak to Vanderbilt is still intact. And most importantly, Auburn's 12-year drought between SEC tournament championships will continue.
But late in the SEC title game broadcast, ESPN's color announcer (whose name escapes me, sorry) reminded us all why this Auburn team will always be remembered for what they accomplished this season rather than what they didn't last night or even what they might not in the future. It wasn't Auburn that was this conference's pre-season favorite: it was their opponent. In fact, Auburn didn't draw a single vote from the 25-member media panel who voted in the SEC's preseason poll. 12 voted for Vandy, 9 for Tennessee, and 4 for Georgia. None for Auburn.
So if you were an Auburn disappointed last night ... well, that makes sense. I was disappointed. The expectation was victory.
But we also have to recognize that that expectation didn't come from undiluted hype or a stacked roster or a coach who can already point to a string of SEC titles trailing behind her. The expectation was victory because that's all this team has given us this year. Win after win after win after win. So they couldn't give us one more--they've still given us way more this season than we had any right to expect.
--This is going to sound a bit strange, but against good, well-coached teams, Auburn is going to go as far as Alli Smalley can take them. Bonner can shoot a bit from outside, but that's not her game. To really open up the lane, to really make opponents respect what Auburn can do on the perimeter, Smalley has to work to get open and has to hit the looks she gets. Neither of those things happened last night as Smalley finished 2-of-9 from the field and 0-for-4 from deep. Auburn finished the game without a three, and unless you're living on the line or shooting absolutely lights out from inside--and the Tigers were not--that's awfully hard to overcome. Remember, the furious comeback against the 'Dores up in Nashville was fueled by a late Smalley barrage. There's a reason that went Vandy went triangle-and-two, the "two" were Bonner and Smalley.
Maybe it's just me, but I thought the three games-in-three days slate seemed to catch up to her most of all: Smalley just didn't get to several rebounds or loose balls it looked to me like she usually would have.
--Certainly, the compressed format of a conference tournament does not play to the advantage of a team that's spent all season playing its starters 35 minutes a game. The energy for Auburn's traditional second-half push just wasn't there, principally on the defensive end, where Vandy enjoyed more and more uncontested threes as the game progressed.
--Boddie had her usual 8-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio and was her usual lethal self in transition (save that one play where she passed up the easy layup for a pass across the lane to a defended trailer), but it's still hard to say she had a good game. The easiest way for Auburn to break through the Vandy zones and gimmicks was for Boddie to penetrate ... and she both didn't manage that very often and didn't finish a handful of opportunities at the rim.
--Give Vandy credit: that's a very well-coached, disciplined team. Those three-pointers at the end of the clock are killers, and not many teams have the patience to see five seconds up there on the shot clock and still run their offense.
--I can understand the allure of giving Keke Carrier a few minutes, especially when the opponent's going small. But given how awkward she still seems to be and how precious little respect she gets from the officials (that first fouled on her last night was as bad as calls get), I think I'd rather see her used more as a decoy than an actual cog in the offense.
--The less-than-educated guess here is that Stanford currently has the inside track on the last No. 1 seed. If the Cardinal become double-champions of the Pac-10, that's going to be tough to overlook. If Louisville makes the final of the Big East tournament and loses to UConn again, they'll be right in the mix, too--but I think there's at least an outside possibility that the Committee would reward Auburn for winning a championship rather than the Cardinals for just being really good.
The good news is that the difference between being the first or second No. 2 and the third or fourth No. 1 is relatively minimal. On paper, the road's a little steeper as the former, but bracket chaos and "sleeper" land mines that could be in an 8 or 5 seed as easily as a 7 or 6 mean nothing's guaranteed.