Saturday, March 14, 2009
One down, two to go
Yesterday: Well, Auburn fans, we knew we'd have to grind one out sooner rather than later, didn't we? But hey, this team's pretty good at that whole "grinding" thing, so no complaints.
Particularly when they've faced the best-shooting team in the SEC and made them finish a hideous 36 percent from the floor an an even more hideous 14-of-36 ( ) inside the arc. You wouldn't think "wow, Auburn shot so much better than they did" after a game chock-ful of wayward three-point jacks, but the chart don't lie:
Yes, Florida missed a lot of open shots they'd usually hit. But so did Auburn--the bottom line is that Auburn was the better defensive team, and little by little that pushed them over the top, even as they lost the turnover battle by a little (surprising) and the battle on the boards (not surprising).
--Frankie Sullivan! No, three TOs to zero assists is not so great, but 12 points on six shots when no one else on the entire team is scoring efficiently (Reed and Barrett: 4-for-17, 10 points) is a massive, massive boost. Not to mention the ice-water free throw to force the Gators into a three at game's end, and the late first-half block that gives us all a tantalizing glimpse of how good this guy's defense could be in a couple of seasons. Actually, forget that--it's a glimpse of how good his defense is now.
--Time to show some love to Quantez Robertson, who defended like a demon (including the game-clinching block, of course) and put together an assist-to-TO ratio of 4-to-1--again, all the more important for almost no one else finishing with on above 1. Lucas Hargrove, meanwhile, continued to be the one guy other than Barber I feel like this team just couldn't win without: 11 points (on 8 shots), 5 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals. He's as glue as it gets.
--Vot Barber, 4-of-4 from the free throw line. Way to go, Vot.
--One more round of applause for the entire team's defense, please. Man alive, their hands are quick, aren't they?
Today: First things first: the team Auburn is playing today is better than the team they played yesterday. The offense is nearly as good, the defense substantially better over the course of the season. (Though to be fair: not in regular-season SEC play.) In all likelihood, the offensive effort Auburn put forth yesterday will not be enough today.
But hey, on the positive side, it doesn't mean Tennessee's defense is exactly good. Nobody in the league was worse at defending 2-point shots, their 3-point defense is well below average, surprisingly for a Bruce Pearl team they don't force a particularly high number of turnovers (137th in the country? Really?), and their defensive rebounding is OK but hardly intimidating. Quite honestly, the only reason they're not worse--all of that adds up to the 71st-ranked D in the country according to Kenpom, which is kind of weird since they don't rank nearly that high in any individual category--is because their opponents get caught up in transition and get suckered into taking threes; 36.4 percent of field goal attempts vs. Tennessee came from deep, the one of the top 65 highest totals in the country. Since they're not as awful defending the 3 as the 2, Tennessee usually at least hangs in there ... but there's still a reason Auburn averaged 1.23 points a possession last time they faced these guys, Auburn's best offensive performance in the SEC this season.
But oy vey, are these guys good on offense--that same game, Tennessee racked up 1.20 points a possession themselves. They're terrible three-point shooters but they do pretty much everything else really well: few turnovers, bunches of offensive rebounds, and the 22nd-best percentage from 2 in the country. That the Vols won't be attacking Auburn's relative vulnerability outside is good news, but that offensive rebound prowess gives me the heebie-jeebies; if not for the Gators' offensive boards last night, it would have been a double-digit game. And while statistically Auburn's better on their interior defense, that wasn't the case the first time around--the Vols finished an outrageous 20-of-26 (!!!) from 2 last time around.
But in the end, it's the same situation Auburn found themselves in yesterday: their defense vs. the other guys' offense. Auburn should at least break even there, meaning it's up to Auburn's offense to take advantage of Tennessee's weakness on the other end. Hello, Korvotney Barber: Tennessee doesn't have an answer for him (he went 8-for-8 from the field in the first meeting) and as long as Auburn keeps feeding him and takes care of the ball, they should be OK. We'll see, but after getting their bad shooting night out of the system, I'm tentatively confident.
War Eagle, guys. Get this one, and you're 40 minutes away.