Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Credit where it's due
No punches will be pulled here: I had given up on Jeff Lebo.
Last August, in the wake of Josh Dollard's departure, I pegged what I expected to be the length of his remaining tenure to the day. In my head (though never on the site until he's actually relieved of duties, some distant day) I'd already compiled a list of potential replacements. I looked over this roster in the preseason and had them pagged for a .500 finish at best--I mean, come on, one productive post player, and a 6-7 one at that? Major minutes in the backcourt that would have to be occupied by JUCOs and a freshman gunner? A whole fleet of athletic bricklayers that didn't look like they had a prayer of becoming the kinds of pieces necessary to build a smoothly-operating offensive machine?
Truth be told, Auburn still isn't all that close to having that machine--their percentage of assisted baskets to unassisted is seventh in the league and last night the assist-to-turnover ratio was a sparkling -.63--but it hasn't mattered, because Lebo has figured out what these pieces can do and has used them to build the best team of his Auburn tenure by a mile and a half. On paper, Auburn never should have entered Coleman as a slight favorite. They never should have held their own on the boards (which they did--45 total boards to 40, 17 offensive to 14). And they never, ever, ever, should have won the game in Tuscaloosa in which they trailed by 13 points with just 14:21 to play.
But they did, because Lebo has them doing the things they can do about as well as we could imagine them doing. He has them attacking off the dribble with purpose. He has them putting their pestersome hands in just about as many passing lanes and shooter's faces as possible. He has them playing just slow enough a pace that his own team's turnovers haven't been a problem while the opponent's have piled up. And even if all of that wasn't on display last night--kudos to 'Bama for hanging on to the ball--what was on display is that Lebo has them believing the ludicrous idea that they can do things like come from 13 points back in Coleman with 14 minutes to play.
Because he's doing all of those things, Lebo will be the head coach of the Auburn men's basketball team next year, and for the first time in a long time, I can genuinely say I'm glad and maybe even excited that that's the case. He's done one hell of a job this season.
--If Auburn beats LSU Saturday, I'll do a full workup of their bubble chances, overwhelmingly skeptical as I am. But for the team, the approach now has to be a simple one: three wins in Tampa. That's the focus. That's what it'll take. And with that fourth win now off the table, it's never looked more possible. (By the way, the winner of Thursday's Tennessee @ South Carolina date is your very likely No. 1 seed out of the East and Auburn's potential semifinal opponent should the seeds hold in the quarters. I'd rather have the 'Cocks, personally, after that el foldo in Nashville over the weekend.)
--Did you think we'd ever be saying "Auburn won that game at the free throw line"? 8-of-12 isn't anything to write home about, but 'Bama's 15-of-29 nightmare was far and away the biggest statistical factor in the game.
--Speaking of which, here's your "four factors" chart:
That's right, thanks to Barber's downright heroic efforts, Auburn was a little better on the offensive glass than 'Bama was. (Both teams were pretty well awful on the defensive rebounding end, the biggest reason this game wound up in the 70s despite the below-average shooting.) But given that the Tide matched Auburn in the turnover department and from the field, their advantage at the line should have won the game. Too bad, so sad, suckers.
--Barber was obviously phenomenal--17 boards!--and though he wasn't particularly efficient offensively, Barrett's ability to penetrate and rugged defense on the other end were huge. Also deserving of shout-outs were Lucas Hargrove--whose 10 points on 7 shots was a massive shot-in-the-arm with Reed and Waller struggling--and Frankie Sullivan. For a true freshman who spent his entire high school career as a go-to do-everything star on the offensive end, it was truly awesome to watch how committed he was on the defensive end last night. The ONIONS! drive to ice the game (as Andy Bitter appropriately labeled it) was just the icing on the cake.
--Hmmmm, I've done two chat-style liveblogs and the results have been 1. Surprise DeAngelo Benton commitment with no surprise decommits 2. Rousing comeback win against Alabama on the road. We may have to try this again sometime.
--Sweep of Alabama SAY WHAT! War Eagle, fellas. Keep it going.